I wrote this letter today to my union because I am apparently still paying dues even though the union has done nothing to help me keep my job, get a new job, or even feel better about losing my job.
To Whom it May Concern,
I am not sure what to believe in. I am currently an unemployed union member. I spent twelve years teaching. In that time, the union took my money happily every month in order to negotiate contracts for me. Unfortunately, the union and district agreed to raise the starting wage for teachers in three of my first five years, meaning I was only a couple of steps ahead of the new hires as I was was receiving tenure. In that time, increases continued for those who had been in the district for many years or had advanced degrees. Neither of these elements guaranteed better teaching, but it was how the system worked, I looked forward to a day when I would be making $60,000 with my retirement paid for. Those days never came, however, and by my tenth year, my salary was going back down. The union was left with little or no power.
I supported the union at this time, and I even scoffed privately at those who boisterously accused the union of not looking out for them. “You’re a shop teacher or a gym teacher,” I said to myself. “The union has done a lot to keep you happy.” The problem was that their classes had little or no bearing on ACT scores or AP availability, seen as a the litmus tests for a district. Two of the four ACT scores came from classes like mine. I had been trained in how to write tests to practice the big tests, and I put all of this work online for my peers. I was untouchable.
Then I was laid off. The union did not acknowledge this in any way. It did not offer to help in any way. It sat by and collected my monthly payment because I had made the decision to join even as most of my colleagues let it die in our district. This union, that once had defended teachers who were having the ultimate inappropriate relations with students, did not even care to ask why I was being let go. I had done nothing wrong, but other teachers did not know that unless I told them. Other districts I might apply to had no way of knowing this, either. Unemployed and nearly unemployable in education.
Ten full days after I’d been officially unemployed from my district, the union is still taking money from my bank account, and it's taken enough money in the past year to buy nearly two months of groceries for my now impoverished family. I want to believe the union helps people and that our standard of living is higher than in non-union states. I want to believe that the union is made up of people like me who care what happens to fellow members. However, my union, like my state, has left me little to believe in. At least the state has acknowledged my situation and offered the pittance of unemployment insurance to help in the transition. My union just wants to keep taking. I do believe this, however: I don't have anything left to give the union.