Yes, there was a time when I questioned being in a union. Once upon a time, when my mentor teacher dropped by my classroom at the end of the day and dropped a big blue binder in my lap.
"What's this?" I asked.
"You're a union member. Get to know your contract."
And that's how I learned that by accepting a job in the Oakland Unified School District, I had become a union member. Along with all the benefits of salary deductions and additional meetings, there was the T-shirt I was encouraged to buy. I was going to be asked to wear that T-shirt to show my dedication to my brothers and sisters. All the while, I was wondering why would teachers need a union? Coal miners? I get that. Black lung disease and working underground. Horrible stuff. That's when you need the union and all those aforementioned brothers and sisters. Misery loves company, but collective bargaining even more.
Since those initial impressions, I have settled into a moderately comfortable relationship with my union. I have paid my dues, in all the different ways possible. And I have enjoyed having people looking out for me and teachers like me in my district. As it turns out, all those pages in that contract require attention that I confess I don't really have to give. There are people in my union that do that. Accumulated sick leave? Ask your union representative. What happens when we take extra students in our room if a class has to be split up? Ask your union representative. When those questions get too big or complex, we work up the chain. Instead of asking for a raise, I wait for my union to negotiate one for me.
In exchange, I find myself out on the sidewalk in front of my school, shouting out slogans that strain to rhyme at the front of the building that I prefer to be inside. I do this because my union has asked me to. I hope that my participation in this endeavor will expedite negotiations, since it's been a while since I read that contract. Happily, I'm pretty sure there's nothing in there about black lung disease.