Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why a Union?

I think all the teacher's at ESB would agree that we are very lucky to have the managers we have.  We work in a very supportive environment, and when it comes to the day-to-day struggles of being an ESL teacher, I think we all can agree that our managers have our backs.

But unfortunately, there's more to it than that.  Even though we all like our managers, maybe we're even friends with them outside or work, we all know that there are things going on that just aren't right.

Pay - Ok, none of us became teachers for the big bucks, but we still need to survive.  This is an expensive city and our salaries just don't cut it.  Our students pay a lot of money to attend Kaplan, and this is money that us teachers don't see very much of.   We spend hours planning lessons, grading tests and papers,  attending meetings, and maybe chaperoning an activity or two.  And during this time we are getting paid a fraction of our typical hourly salary.   All those hours of work outside the classroom add up, and if you factor that in to what your actual hourly salary is, for every hour of work, it's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Benefits - Usually if you have low pay, you at least can make up for it with benefits.  Now, there are a select few of us who are full-time, but the large majority of us our part-timers and we don't see many benefits at all (except that Starbucks gift card I got back in January!)  Our students pay for days that the school is closed for holidays, and yet us teachers don't get paid holidays.  We don't receive paid sick time, and therefore force ourselves to come into work when it's bad for our health as well as the health of the students.  And god help you if you do have a medical problem beyond a regular doctor's visit, because our health insurance plan sure isn't going to help you.

Who's looking out for us?  Like I said, we all like our managers, but it's not their job to decide these things.  You can't ask them for a more comprehensive health plan or to do away with all the confusing pay grades that are short-changing us every week.  These are things that are beyond their control.  These are things that are decided by Kaplan, and as individuals we have no way to fight for our rights.  But if unionize, we can all work together to decide what issues are most important to us, and work together to get the fair contract that we deserve.

What if the union just makes things worse?  I don't really see how this could happen, as the union's only purpose is to bargain on our behalf, taking our demands to Kaplan and negotiating a contract for us.  But if by some strange turn of events the Guild cannot come to an agreement that we like, we can always vote it down.  We only start paying dues if and when the Guild is able to negotiate a contract that we approve of.  And down the line, if we get a contract in place, and we then decide that we really don't like the Guild or the dues aren't worth it, there is a process where we can vote to discontinue our membership when the contract is ending.   But really, if we had a contract in place that we had voted on, it seems unlikely that we would be unhappy with it.  If we all work together, we have the power to make Kaplan a better place for us teachers.

"There is power in numbers and there is power in unity."
- Martin Luther King Jr.