Thursday, August 23, 2018

Why We Need To Be Members Of Our Unions And Participate With Grassroots Groups by Cheryl Gibbs Binkley


Originally published at:

As a lifetime member of my Union and a coordinator for at least 2 grassroots groups which work with
both teachers’ Unions, I often get questions or viewpoints volunteered that speculate on the relative
value of each.
-- Some not so complimentary of either. 

Questions like: Why should I belong to a union, if I can do activism through a grassroots group?
Or, Why should I get involved in a grassroots group when I’m already a union member?  
These questions are daily fuel for thought and often affect my ToDo list.

The answers are fairly complex, but simply put, it is critically important for us All to both join and
work through our Union/Association and to participate in current grassroots actions like
Virginia Educators United.

Here are a few of the reasons we need both: 

We need a Grassroots movement because 

1. There are 93,000 teachers in Virginia. Roughly half of them are not currently represented by an
Association or Union, and in some districts the number of members is small enough to seriously
limit the power they can wield. Only a grassroots, statewide movement can offer an opportunity for
those 40,000 unrepresented teachers to speak up and speak out- Now!  And those 40,000 or so
additional school employees offer the Unions large enough numbers to have the impact we all need.

2. This year, six other states, many surrounding Virginia, have taken action. There are several reasons
for that; among them are that we have reached a critical point for saving our schools which includes
multiple crisis issues - extremely low funding of salaries, continuing erosion of benefits and degenerating
working conditions, aging schools whose repair, renovation, or additional classrooms have not been
funded, and lack of consideration from even friendly legislators for raising funding levels back to
pre-recession levels. 

3. Grassroots movements in other states have worked. Besides including employees and workers,
they welcome allies, parents, and community groups who will stand with us.They have changed
awareness, challenged the messages from public school enemies, and given a face to all the people
who serve our children. 

4. This year Virginia is seeing a freeing up of dollars that had remained unreachable in prior years.
Now is the time to speak up that those dollars (hundreds of millions)  are needed and necessary to
create the schools our communities and families require. 

We need our Unions because

1. Our Education Associations and Locals provide the on-going monitoring and legislative advocacy
that we need. Every year VEA and AFT provide direct advocacy on bills that are aimed to undermine
our schools further, and they turn back the tide of attack bills anti-schools forces bring year after year.
Our Unions do the tracking of legislators, and provide the information to localities about which
policymakers support schools.  They guide pro-school bills through the labyrinth introduction,
committee, and voting processes. And locals provide similar tracking and monitoring of policies at
district levels.

2. Our Unions represent individual employees whose careers are attacked each year.  Through
representation and challenges to unfair practices, the Unions defend many teachers every year
against personal attacks, inaccurate accusations, and -isms of many varieties from sexism, to racism,
to able-ism, to ageism.  A Union defense is often the game changer that saves good teachers' careers. 

3. Our Unions link us to other educators across the nation. Having NEA and AFT at the national level
enables us to see and defend against attacks launched in multiple states or from the federal level.
In recent years, this has been a critical need because the pro-privatization forces have been better
funded, well-organized, and well-connected for their anti-school agenda.  Through solidarity, we
can compete with the access massive money and its power provides anti-school forces.

Right now, with Janus having turned the whole nation into a Right to Work and Learn/Earn Less
environment- Those of us who have lived and struggled against that environment for years can lead
the way.  No, we don’t live in a perfect workers’ environment right now, but that is why

  • We need Virginia Education Association, and
  • We need AFT’s Federation of Teachers and 
  • We need Virginia Educators United grassroots coalition

 Every one of them, growing 
stroking on all cylinders, 
building connections with other community groups, other workers’ groups
and developing relationships with our policy makers that are fair, honest,
and forthright,
supporting All our Schools, our Communities and our Co-Workers without reservation or restraint.

If we join together, we can create an Education Commonwealth for the ages,  a point of destination
for all who want to live in a place that values healthy Learning, and Thinking, and Understanding. 
Through our combined efforts Virginia can be the kind of place we all want to live and work.  

So, Join your Union, and become part of Virginia Educators United. You are needed in both, right now. 
There is much to do, and much to be gained. 

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