Theodore R. Griffiths
Stories about teacher unions and strikes materialize in newspapers on a weekly basis, but it is rarely something to which we dedicate much thought. It is common for these unions to be vilified, with pundits throwing around adjectives such as “lazy” and “greedy.” I believe it to be less of a misunderstanding and more of a partisan effort, as those criticisms usually come from outlets like FOX News and their elephant brethren. It is unfortunate that these labels are attached to teacher unions, especially since the faculty of Millersville University have been going through a contractual conflict of their own.
While I may come across as a pundit myself in attributing all of the abuse towards unions to right-wing organizations, there is little evidence to redeem them. Unions have become the topic of a purely partisan effort with Republicans more than happy to see them dissolved and left to the annals of history. What seems to be lost in this discussion is the fact that all you need is history to see why America needs unions.
It may be instinctual to take jabs at teacher unions, especially if you allow yourself to think in a simple manner such as, “Well at least they’re getting paid. I’m the one stacking debt semester after semester to pay their bills.” What many people don’t realize is how complex these situations truly are. It is not merely a demand for more money, but a showing of devotion towards their craft. There is no malice or greed accompanying their requests, and regardless of the actions taken by the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF), they are only trying to raise the standards of education at Millersville University and the Pennsylvania state system.
While the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors originally intended to inflate class sizes, reduce salary for part-time professors, and reduce the benefit package for full-time employees, APSCUF has pushed to make sure that does not happen. The inflating class sizes may seem like the only thing that would affect students, but what many people forget is the importance of a good salary package in a competitive industry. I realize that staff can be filled with any salary package offered, but there is competition from every other university in this country, and without equally competitive pay and benefits there will be absolutely no incentive for some of the most qualified professors to teach at schools like Millersville University.
This process of bargaining used by APSCUF to preserve the education and competition of Millersville University is only one example of the importance of unions. Through the collective bargaining process employees gain better working environments and better pay, creating a middle class that would not exist if labor conditions and salary were left to the desires of unchecked employers. It is something so obvious, but a position that must be defended because of the current political assault on the working class.
Although APSCUF has approved a tentative agreement on a contract with PASSHE, the initial deal PASSHE proposed to APSCUF was an insult to the faculty of Millersville University. Even with this agreement the teachers face increased co-pays for office visits, emergency room visits, and prescription medication. What stings more is the elimination of course development compensation for distance education, something which is voluntary and not mandatory.
APSCUF will now have a similar contract to the one reached by Governor Corbett and the other statewide unions. While that is a much better outcome than the original deal proposed by PASSHE, this is just another example of why America needs unions. Think about the class sizes, already too inflated, only increasing year by year if PASSHE had their way.
All this country needs is a decade without unions, fair pay, or acceptable working conditions to realize how important they are. All PASSHE needed was a decade of inflated class sizes with unmotivated teachers to see how worthless their education would become.