Education Matters: Union should account for all teachers' voices

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Last Friday I made reference to a local bond issue, Measure S, that all of us who live within the Glendale Unified School District will be voting on in April. Representatives of my (former) teachers union, Glendale Teachers Assn., having voted to oppose the measure, now asks all teachers in the district to fall into line and do the same — and that raises a few questions.

Should 1,400 teachers, all union members, agree to act as a unit even when many in that unit do not agree with their representatives? Given the importance of Measure S, considering its impact on virtually every teacher in the district, and considering that the union wants to present a solid, unified front to the district and to the community, shouldn’t it first determine just how united that front is?

I question whether the union’s leadership is interested in discovering what the majority think. Last year, we teachers at Hoover High School took a vote on whether to continue a “banking day,” which was an hour each week devoted to school business and professional collaboration. The majority of teachers clearly indicated by their votes that they wanted to keep it going.

Following that expression of popular will, our union president descended on our school to tell us that the vote did not count because we failed to reach “consensus,” which requires 75% of all the teachers to agree.

I’ve asked a number of fellow teachers to explain the fairness of that burdensome requirement, and I’ve never received a clear answer. On the second vote at our school, 72% said “yes” to retaining our banking day. Result: no consensus, thereby allowing a small minority to impose its will on the rest of the teachers at the school. When I questioned this inequity, I was told that it was “irrelevant.”

I imagine that the present union leadership finds the input from all of its members on the bond issue to be irrelevant as well. The suggestion that reps go back to their sites and find out what all of the teachers in this district think of Measure S fell on deaf ears, and that puzzles me.

Shouldn’t the reps know that a good number of teachers might regard a “no” vote as counterproductive to their best interests, in a sense shooting themselves in the foot? After all, money from the proposed bond would go entirely to school improvement, including making badly needed repairs and upgrading outdated equipment.

Underlying this local issue is an ongoing national discussion that paints unions, especially public employee unions, as partly responsible for our present economic woes. Some might go so far as to question the need for any unions, even though the most rabid anti-unionist would agree that the creation of unions was a natural response to the exploitation of labor throughout our history.

But they have gotten “out of control,” says a large segment of Americans, especially, once again, public employee unions. I find myself (retired, irrelevant me) somewhere in the middle of all of that, including other union issues in the news lately.

Teacher tenure, for example, is taking a public beating like never before, based partly on the objection that it protects bad teachers and makes it next to impossible to remove them. On the other hand, should teachers be at the mercy of administrators who would be, absent tenure restrictions, empowered to remove them at will?

But then on the other hand, why should teachers be afforded special job protection that other workers in other lines of work don’t get? After all, we would always have grievance procedures and legal remedies for discrimination at the workplace.

And then there is the feeling out there that we public servants, with the help of our unions, have overburdened our pensions with benefits for retirees that may in time increase the indebtedness of our state when those public pensions go bust. Speaking as one of those retirees, I’m satisfied that my pension is a fair one — not overly generous, but an appropriate award for all my years of teaching and contributing to my retirement.

Unlike other public employees that get bonuses, or clock in overtime, or retire at age 50 with full pensions — or transfer to the city of Bell — we teachers have fixed incomes with pensions to match.

Getting back to Measure S, I don’t think the rank and file of the Glendale Teachers Assn. should be lumped in with a few of its leaders who now trot out their “united we stand” rhetoric. If the majority of teachers in Glendale are in agreement with their representatives, let that be known after a district-wide or even school-by-school vote.

From what I’ve heard, that has already begun at a few sites, with hopefully more to follow. The folks in Glendale have a right to know how the teachers in the district really feel about the bond.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.

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