It’s Friday. And instead of enjoying a happy hour drink with my colleagues after a long, short week of school, I spend the evening hunkered in with the negotiations team. Since our district has declared we are at an impasse, a state mediator has asked us to select a meeting time from a host of dates.
So we sit with our calendars in hand working to maneuver our teaching schedules and duties to accommodate at least one of the handful of dates provided. When we finally agree upon one of the dates, we move to the next two items on our agenda: what is our bottom line and what is our next step in an organizing plan to ensure our members have their voices heard as this process unfolds over the next few weeks.
So we come up with what we think is a solid recommendation for our board of directors about what we can accept in mediation to reach a tentative agreement and what we cannot accept in mediation leading us to the next stage of the process, called fact-finding. We ready our recommendation for next week’s board of directors meeting and move to the more important item–our organizing around the issue of settling our contract. We know we have a solid message–our district is trying to act outside of the law in order to avoid negotiations with us. Our district is trying to avoid including stakeholder input in their decisions that impact the families of over 23,000 students. The changes they are seeking in this bargain, we contend, would end in an unfair labor charge against us and them from the other locals in our district–and would end in parents feeling marginalized in a matter that they should have at least some input. So we develop our message of inclusion. We seek to end this bargain as soon as possible so we can work with the district and other stakeholder groups to make the choices of whether or not to change the one item (not money) that the district has taken us to an impasse for.
The hard part with all of this is that this one issue has become a political football. Once an issue becomes so politicized, its harder to build consensus rather than camps. And our district has spent the past decade building camps on this one issue. Unfortunately, part of their camp building has including throwing teachers under the bus over and over again. Anytime anyone from any side asks them about this one issue, they point the finger at us and say, “We have to negotiate it with the teachers and they won’t talk about it.” Well, we are going public with what we have been saying in negotiations for over five years now–it’s not our issue. It’s their issue. And they must be the ones that reach out to stakeholders and include all the necessary groups in the conversations as they are the employer, not us.
Sometimes this feels like a political tennis match instead of a schoolhouse. And it’s disheartening when something seemingly so small becomes so toxic that it distracts from the central mission of educating our youth by expending so many resources to take something that would probably be given with the proper outreach and inclusion. But that is the fruit that top-down, autocratic leadership bears. Maybe that fruit-bearing tree needs to cut down and thrown in the fire. Maybe its time for a good tree to bear good fruit, the fruits of consensus and common interest.
“Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” by The Smiths
“…I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?…”