An Open Letter to All Teachers Who Have Opted Out of Your Union

If you have opted out of the union, and if I knew you personally, I would most likely respect you as an educator, but I want to share my take on this situation. I don’t know what your reasons for your actions are, and don’t expect that you need to share them with me.  But I do know that many of you feel you just can’t afford the dues. Or perhaps you feel the union doesn’t do anything for you anyway.  Maybe you feel unions have outgrown their usefulness.

Suffice it to say this long-standing, well-funded, and very carefully orchestrated attack on organized labor is not something I didn’t see coming.  I have been watching it evolve since President Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO) in 1981. When organized labor allowed that to happen, the writing was on the wall. And the attack has been predicated on you feeling one or all of the above to be true.

Here’s my take:

We need the union now more than ever.
This isn’t about me and not about most of you.  It is about the new teachers in your buildings; it’s about the future. It’s about all of those gifted and talented students you teach who dream of becoming a teacher one day. It’s about their expectation that they will be able to raise a family and own their own home.  It’s about what I and most retired teachers enjoy. That is not what those new teachers in your building will have to look forward to now in the later stages of their careers and after they retire.

Unions protect workers. Your working conditions are your students’ learning conditions.
It is about those future teachers who may not agree with how things are being run and the protection they will lose. I and many like me were the kind of teachers not prone to shrinking from a fight to do what was right for our students, even though it might have been in direct violation of misguided board of education policy or an arbitrary and capricious legislative fiat. That freedom of speech in the workplace was afforded to you by the protection we gained being able to collectively bargain a safe and orderly environment for those students.  Our rights in our work environment were NEVER given to us; rather they were won by organized hard work as members of a union.

Teaching was, and is, again becoming, a “second income profession.” 
I was raised in a time when the teaching profession was not one that afforded educators the security to raise a family and own their own home.  My aunt was a third grade teacher and her salary was what paid for the two-week vacation to Lake Charlevoix each year--that’s it! Luckily she was married to a unionized postal employee.

After WWII, and with the advent of the GI Bill of Rights, many young men returning from military service took advantage of the GI Bill to attend college.  Several of my high school teachers and counselors were from that group.  Prior to the unionization of the teaching profession, special mortgage programs had to be set up for those teachers so they could afford to buy a home.  Conversely, my father worked in an auto factory, and was able to enter the housing market, raise six kids and go on a vacation every summer. The difference between teachers and factory workers was that auto workers literally put their lives on the line to obtain a living wage and some basic benefits. Teachers had to make a decision to fight for what they knew they deserved in order to bring the teaching profession into the middle class.  And every one of us is in their debt for those sacrifices.

The pendulum is quickly swinging back to a time when teachers now qualify for food stamps.  This will drive the best and the brightest from even considering entering the field in the first place. It is driving the best and brightest in your buildings to create a “Plan B” for their future which does not include being an educator. You may be one of them.

Think about the future of YOUR profession.
I don’t expect this message to change the decision you have made.  But I sincerely hope it will cause you to deeply think about the future of your profession. Working people have NEVER realized improvement in their station in life through the kindness of their employer. And in the near future, when there are no restraints on the power of school boards and school administrations, they will continue to act from their natural predilection or because of bullying by their misguided Legislature, to strip you of more of your hard-won rights.

The end of unions is the end of public education!  
I may be wrong about you, but I don’t think this is a scenario you envision as being good for the future of your students, your profession, your state or your country.

In solidarity!

Fran Cullen
Retired Teacher
Traverse City Area Public Schools


Too many of the younger generations have no concept of the efforts put forth by educators of that post-war period of growth. My father was an educator earlier, but had to quit and take a job in the factories to earn enough to raise his family. Those unions had gained enough strength to raise wages to a substantial level. My husband and I started teaching in 1960, when, with both of us teaching, we could just make the rent. I will never forget hearing the renters of a house we were looking to buy say " They'll never be able to buy it. They're just teachers." Thank God for unions

When I was in college, in 1968, my education professor told us that he made $2600 a year as an elementary school teacher. This fact horrified me because my father, who was a mechanic made $7500 a year, which was my salary when I began to work as a teacher. We teachers all knew back then that we couldn't support a family on so little money. There is a baseball pitcher right now in my hometown who makes $588,000 for EACH game he pitches. What is wrong with this picture? SSCXE

I can't agree with you Fred. There is more to the opt out. The MEA has become an extension of the Democratic party. 50% of the students parents are Republicans. including myself. I would have to believe this is the reason

Yes.. to all stated here! As a teacher entering my tenth year I and other teachers around my age are always on the lookout for plan B, and I work during the summer. For the sake of our profession and it's future ai hope we can stand together.

I would never opt out of the MEA, and I agree with most all that was said above. We need to have bargaining power and the option to speak as one, and even strike if needed. The unity of several unions having each others back is a powerful notion that could if used change the trends of education and the America we are living in today. The concern I have is the blind support the Democratic Party by the union. This concern is wide spread and growing or else the opt out would have never grown to a reality. The idea that education is and should be a federal program and that the focus is changing from student centered to data centered is unacceptable; and stems from Democratic leadership. Trust in the Government is waining and the voice of the teachers union should be a solid reflection of character rather than chasing federal dollars at children's expense. So I say support the MEA, and do it with deliberate efforts to regain control of how Education is delivered.

I was not a rabid union supporter. I didn't take offices in the union or participate past just our monthly meetings. On rare occasions, I saw them protect teachers who needed to leave our profession. HOWEVER, this generation just coming into their working years has no idea what teaching used to be like. I remember capricious administrators moving teachers from school to school during the year to get rid of them...parents threatening to sue because they knew that teachers couldn't afford a lawyer and would quit..paychecks that didn't cover the cost of retirement benefits...discrimination within the system for women and minorities...the list goes on and on. It will be back and we'll lose all the good people. Join your union. Save the profession.

As a parent of 2 children who will rely on the public schools in Michigan, I know that my children are best served by unionized teachers who can focus on their classroom and not worry about their due process and labor position with the administration. I hope all will stay to keep the union strong. My children, my wife and I are depending on you. Solidarity from a parent who is neither a teacher or the member of any union.

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