I have to say. I’m very sympathetic to the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU). They have a tough job. DC is not by and large a union town. It’s been pretty easy to erode the powers of organized labor over the last several years, especially from within.
As some of you may know, the WTU is embroiled in what could be a relatively ugly election season. There have been accusations of withholding ballots, of dragging feet during contract negotiations, of frivolous litigation by members against the union itself, and now non-payment of real estate taxes on the WTU’s new(ish) headquarters.
As a WTU building representative, who listens to the issues that really concern rank-and-file teachers on a daily basis, this internal squabbling over these kinds of issues does not instill me with a lot of confidence that the WTU has its act together.
Building reps put themselves at a lot of risk representing the union. There is, in many cases, an oppositional relationship between labor and management, between teachers and administration. It takes a certain kind of person willing to put themselves out there. And in the current climate in which we are teaching, it takes some courage on behalf of individual teachers to even share their concerns with building representatives.
In order for this system to work, teachers and building reps have to know that the WTU has our backs. For me, when I see this kind of internal conflict and turmoil, I lose my resolve to stand up for teachers. If I put myself out on a limb, I have to feel like someone might catch me if I fall. Otherwise, I’m going to throw up my hands and say to everyone whom I represent, “You’re on your own now.”
If this stuff about tax liens or car allowances or denied leaves of absence matters to someone, then I guess that’s politics as usual during an election season. Great. Fantastic. And maybe it’s about trying to score some political points during a time where it won’t matter very much overall. I really can’t say for sure if many DC teachers are really paying much attention to it right now given that it’s their summer break. So the damage to morale might be minimal.
But for my money, I actually really care very little about these issues. I don’t know much about buying property, for instance. As an advocate for teachers’ working conditions, why would I expect a Union President to be an expert on property taxes? I suppose this is indication that an administration is disorganized because a leader would be effective at delegating this responsibility to someone who understands property taxes and all of that.
That’s probably the issue. Mismanagement of union fees and dues. I get it.
Yet, what’s a little mismanagement of funds if you’re out there really fighting on behalf of teachers? Not saying the current admin has a lock on that either. I’m just having a hard time caring about, and therefore voting with my conscience, on these kinds of issues.