I recently received an email from the local chapter of the National Education Association informing me that collective bargaining had ended and a salary schedule for the 2018-19 school year had been agreed upon. In other words, a union of which I am not a member has negotiated my new salary for the upcoming school year.
As a second-year elementary school teacher in southern New Mexico, I would be lying if I said that I have not seriously considered joining the union, or that I will never join the union. The pressure is high at the Title I school in which I work.
Our students’ lives include single mothers, numerous siblings, incarcerated fathers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, custody battles, and a rotating cast of stepfathers. The risk of a wild allegation from a parent or family member informs every decision we make, and the union’s assurance of legal and financial support is tempting, even for someone like me who disapproves of the political activities my dues would be supporting.
The union is not shy in expressing its displeasure with nonmembers like me; the aforementioned email even included the following: “If you are not yet a member, please take the time to fill out the attached membership application. It’s time that you join to support our efforts to improve our profession.”
I don’t think it occurred to me until hearing commentary on the recent Supreme Court case that without the union, I could actually negotiate my own salary with my employer. As it is, I am stuck in a gridlock. Barring extreme circumstances, my employment is guaranteed, and yet I cannot receive any performance-based raises or bonuses. Whether I take the time and energy to prepare and execute exciting learning activities or have my students complete premade worksheets for every subject, I will make the exact same salary this coming year as every other teacher in my district who is in their second year and has a master’s degree.
Some may call me a freeloader, because the union negotiates my salary each year despite receiving no money from me, but I feel that whatever benefit I receive from this service is outweighed by the fact that the union’s collective bargaining with the district puts me in a position to be unable to ask for extra income for stellar work.
Most teachers I know and with whom I work go above and beyond their job descriptions on a daily basis, despite knowing they will take home the same paycheck regardless of their efforts. Still, imagine the improvements that could be made to education if teachers were incentivized to go the extra mile and work at their highest capacity in return for more than just a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The local union could negotiate a plan that gives excellent teachers the opportunity to receive bonuses, but they, like seemingly every teachers’ union in the country, value seniority over effectiveness. Thus, as long as the union is negotiating salary schedules on behalf of every teacher in the district, everyone with the same education and experience will earn the exact same salary. If I am going to be locked into a salary schedule that provides no opportunity for performance-based raises or bonuses regardless of whether or not I am a union member, consider me a proud freeloader.