Doubling down on my union bashing

Whoa boy did I upset some folks with my last post about Question 2 on the November ballot and my perspective on teachers’ unions. One of my favorite, most thoughtful readers contacted me about my union bashing, and I realized I should clarify my position about unions. And yes, in my world it’s okay to have healthy disagreements with favorite people who remain favorite people even during and after disagreements.

In my world favorite people become even more favored because of their ability to participate in healthy disagreements, even if no consensus is reached. People who insist I agree with them as part of resolving the disagreement irritate me. It’s okay to agree to disagree and still get along.

I know we’ve lost sight of that art in our digital, constantly communicating, ever polarized, Twitter-happy culture at the moment, but it’s true.

First, I do believe unions have a role to play in industries like big box retail, home health care, child care, or any other industry where lower level employees work their tail off every week only to not make ends meet. Our treatment of entry/lower level workers in this country is despicable.

However, I do not think college educated professionals need unions to protect their rights as workers. I’d like to think professionals are capable of doing their jobs, defending their performance, and making decisions on the fairness of their treatment by themselves. I’d like to think folks hiring these professionals are capable of employing them and honoring their roles in good faith.

That that is not true speaks volumes to ongoing and un-evolving problems with human nature that unions can’t and won’t fix.

As for teachers unions, call me crazy but I’d like to think the educated professionals to whom I’ve been entrusting my children on a daily basis are capable of working with their administrators, district officials, and state agencies to create an environment that meets the best interests of students and teachers.

Without union representation.

That folks can argue that this supposition is an impossibility makes me question the wisdom of entrusting my children to these systems (and not for the first time, either). Basically, arguing that educators need a union to help run schools is like arguing that the grown ups in charge of the schools are incapable of acting like grown-ups. Kids are the first to tell you when something unfair or problematic happens in their environment.

Kids are also capable of working to resolve unfairness and solve problems.

Are those tasks really so hard for the folks teaching and administering to them? If they are too hard,is that something we should feel good about? If they are too hard, that means my children have been learning about conflict resolution and problem solving, among other things, from people who are incapable of conflict resolution and problem solving themselves.

That’s a troubling thought.

Let me be clear — I am not teacher bashing.  The many brilliant teachers (and the couple but not as many brilliant administrators) who have positively impacted my children’s development have my utmost, lifelong respect and gratitude. Those teachers and administrators are worth their weight in gold, or at least worth something close to the folks running their union.

I am professional setting union bashing, though.

I’ll even admit to a bit of bias since I had a pretty negative experience working for a unionized organization. It’s hard not to be bitter after a few years of watching incompetence get protected and paid significantly more than I, thanks to our union and its pay scale that had NOTHING to do with performance. Even pre-bias development though, my first reaction to learning I had been hired at the time at a “closed shop” was, why in heck did employees need a union at this organization?

It seemed silly to me. After a few years, it went from silly to downright problematic as I came to understand the darker side of union presence. There are people (both on the managerial side and the union employee side) who manipulate such employment situations knowing full well they are protected, thus undermining the value of the entire shop structure.

I should also be clear that I do plan to become a conscientious objector when it comes to all the outside money flooding into our referendum process. I plan to vote the opposite of whichever side spends the most outside/out of state money, even if I would vote otherwise on the issue based on merit alone. If an issue can’t be discussed reasonably among Mainers without such obscene amounts being spent, then it doesn’t belong on the table.

And yes, that means I’ll be voting against ending the prohibition of the recreational use of marijuana even though I’ve been waiting for it for 32 years now. My list of concerns about that particular proposal include more than just the hundreds of thousands of out of state dollars backing it, but I’ll be getting to those issues in future posts.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.