Brian Milliron: AP US History teacher, South Haven High School
Let me tell you why I pay my union dues – because I’ve lived the future that Betsy DeVos envisions for our children and the school employees who educate and care for kids.
I worked at for-profit charter schools during my first nine years teaching in the West Michigan area after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in the early 2000s. Nobody wants to work for less money, so accepting a position at a charter school was not based on preference, but on availability. Any job was better than no job, and having a common teaching certification during a time of teacher surplus limited my employment options.
Now I’ve worked at a great public school for a number of years, but I can’t shake off what I saw in non-union charter schools and how teachers and students were treated in the name of profit.
After graduating college, I substitute taught for almost a year before finding a job in a charter school. Over the next nine years, I worked for some great principals and some horrible ones. I worked in a system where the staff turnover rate was above 50 percent nearly every year. Imagine that shocking figure – half the staff leaving every year. Yet it’s no surprise people fled – the staff was volun-told to work the parking lot for arrival and dismissal, monitor lunch, complete forms for “collaboration” meetings with other schools in the company, tutor after school, and teach after-school electives. We had no guaranteed prep time.
All these extra duties were expected to be done with zero compensation. Combine that with significantly lower salary compared to traditional public schools, and it’s easy to understand the high burn-out and turnover rates. Employees were a cog in the wheel, nothing more. Staff morale and high turnover did not worry the company. Profit was the number-one priority.
The camaraderie among colleagues was great – we clung together through what all of us knew was a lousy situation.
The environment I taught in and my students tried to learn in was not conducive to learning. Lack of heat, electrical issues, sewer leaks, and antiquated facilities were the norm, as we tried to “do more with less” – all in the name of profit. I worked with some phenomenal teachers and had some first-rate students who were able to overcome these obstacles, but that didn’t make it right.
I didn’t realize how wrong the for-profit charter system was until I moved to a traditional public school. Now I work with administrators whose first goal is student achievement, not making profits. I have administrators and union representatives who focus on the well-being of the teachers in their building and what they can do to keep educators from leaving. They know the importance of having long-term school employees who provide consistency for students who may have little or no consistency at home.
It disturbs me when I see teachers opt out of joining the union to save some money. I know the five-digit pay increase I received upon switching to a union-represented teaching position happened because a collective bargaining team negotiated professional pay for us. I know the job protections that allow me to enjoy a healthier work-life balance exist because of my union.
I wish non-dues payers would spend just one week in a for-profit charter school to witness what happens when profits matter more than kids – because here’s the sickening truth: If we don’t stick together and fight the billionaires who want corporations to take over our schools, my past will become the future for all of us.
This is why I pay my union dues—and I do it without hesitation.