Striking: The Gordian Knot

GordianKnotby Deana Chadwell    2/7/14
I sit down to write today with a heavy heart. Yesterday our local teachers went on strike. The thought just makes me sick – sick in the same way I feel when I drive by a bad car accident. No. Worse. I know these people. I’ve taught with many of these folks, sat through interminable faculty meetings with them, grabbed hurried lunches with them, pulled out my hair with them. Many times in my career I felt frustrated enough with administrative decisions that I wanted to walk out. I know what they’re feeling.

But I don’t believe in unions. I never joined the union. I was forced by Oregon law to pay my “fair share” dues, but I had a certain satisfaction in knowing I had exercised what little freedom that left me. I did once win a NEA national curriculum award for a program I helped develop; that’s funny, I guess.

Part of my animosity towards unions is built into me. When I was nine, maybe ten years old my dad, who was a member of the International Typographical Union, was appointed to run an audit on their books; some skull-duggery was afoot. He had to hole up in an un-named hotel in serious secrecy because his life was being threatened. He caught the embezzler whose name I clearly remember all these years later, and that he’d snuck off with $25,000, a lot of money in the 50’s. The whole thing scared me and left me with a bad taste in my mouth for unions.

I also find my personal beliefs in conflict with the whole concept. The boss is the person who took the risk of building the business; he or she has the right to choose what the wages or salaries are. The idea of public schools, of course, muddies that water, but ultimately the entire community is the boss, the school board the representatives of that community. I also think that when we work for someone else we are responsible for being our very best. If our best is not good enough to win the boss’s favor, then we’re not in the right job. As you can tell from my piece in American Thinker this week, I’m all for teachers-who-can’t being out of there.

My most cherished belief is that God controls my life, my prosperity, my preferment. To rely on a union, fraught with corruption, sworn to an anti-God mentality, and intent on protecting mediocrity, would be blasphemous. If God wants me working, He’ll see to it that I have job doing what He wants me to do.

I quit teaching once. I gave up trying to please the unreasonable folk in the teacher certification office. I just threw in the towel and figured God would find me something else to do. I got a substitute certificate and actually taught most of the time on that for several months. Then, out of the blue I received a letter from TSPC (Teachers Standards and Practices Commission) telling me that they’d made an error and they gave me the certificate I deserved. I felt like I’d been picked up by the collar and ushered back into the ring.

And I suspect that partly I’m cranky about unions because I was fairly good at what I did, but I didn’t earn any more than other teachers with my seniority no matter their abilities. I was an English teacher and spent an unbelievable number of hours grading papers – at home, in my “off” hours. One day in a faculty meeting our principal was haranguing us about putting in our time. He pointed out that we were contracted for 40 hours and we needed to work those hours. I was thunderstruck; he only expects 40!!!? Gees. All those lost weekends, lost evenings I didn’t need to do? How was anyone getting out of there in under 40 hours? That incident put a kink in my attitude for a while, but the papers stacked up and if the kids took the trouble to write them, then I should read them. So.

Mostly I’m against the unions because both the NEA and AFS are leftist organizations that push leftist ideas. They support Democrat candidates and use teacher dues to do so. They wield terrible, unfair political power and that power has elected socialist leaders who have created this sluggish economy that has left our teachers poorly paid. Karma?

But, back to this current, local crisis: no good can come of it. OK. Strictly speaking, that’s not true – God will find ways to bless many in this mess. What I mean is that no one is going to come out of this unscathed.

The teachers are not going to get more money – there isn’t any. This valley and this state are not doing well. Our governor (supported of course by the OEA) just blew $200 million on Oregon’s spectacularly horrible health care web site. And this state has never recovered fully from the spotted owl fiasco over 20 years ago (and the owls are still dying). There is no money. The finality of that needs to start sinking in for all of us, here and on a national level.

The teachers are not likely to get the working conditions they want either. The district appears to be treating all the teachers like they’re whiney incompetents. The teachers want a prep period – that’s reasonable. Good teaching doesn’t happen automatically. Of course good teaching may not be a high priority. And everyone is so deeply dug in that I don’t see much relief in the offing.

That blank stubbornness isn’t winning the school board any PR points. They’re in an impossible situation, granted. And the lack of respect for the union is understandable – unions don’t breed excellence. But they didn’t need to be so ugly about it – leaving union negotiators sitting around waiting all night for not a single concession.

But the kids. Oh my, the kids. In order to continue “school” students are being shuffled to other school buildings where they only attend half days. There are 13,000 students in this district and you can imagine the number whose parents are counting on the schools to babysit for their children (another whole cauldron of problems). Those parents are in a bind and a lot of those kids will be left on their own. Many students here depend on school for breakfast and lunch. How will that work? And what will they learn? That it’s ok for grown-ups to leave them?

This strike has my stomach churning. Many of these teachers are dear friends of mine. Many of the administrators are, too. Quite a few of the teachers are my ex-students. A lot of the teachers are off-the-charts good at what they do and what they do is one of the most important jobs a person can have. But the union mentality has caused this. A school is no place for groupthink.

Years ago I stumbled onto a strange thing while hiking at the coast: a large garter snake and a lizard locked in mortal conflict. The snake had a good toothy grip on the lizard’s upper jaw. The lizard was locked onto the snake’s lower jaw. They writhed about on the trail and disappeared into the bush. I’ve always wondered if they both died or if one was eventually triumphant. But there was no way both could come out ahead. That’s how I see this strike. I pray I’m wrong.
Deana Chadwell blogs at • (2142 views)

Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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5 Responses to Striking: The Gordian Knot

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I have a visceral dislike for unions as well. But, holy smokes, I’d love to talk shop with your father if he was in the typographical union. I’ve long been interested in typography.

    The reasons you gave for not liking unions sounds as if it comes from a good person who doesn’t like inherently corrupt systems. I couldn’t agree more. You sound sane.

    • I haven’t often sounded sane — glad I could pull it off this time. My dad has long since left this world, but I always thought he was brave for doing what he did.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I used to think “good” was a better compliment than “sane.” It still is, technically. But given how ludicrously insane much of society is — especially the Left — it would seem that sanity is the torch needed, first and foremost, to see one’s way in the darkness, to get a perch on reality amongst the whirlwind of lies. Then if someone wants to choose evil, then I guess they can. But I think fewer people would if their minds weren’t so befuddled, addled by a low-level, ever-present insanity.

  2. LibertyMark says:

    My first job was as a “scab”, a union buster. Unwittingly. At 15, the local grocery store employees went on strike (retail clerks Local 770), and the store put a sign up for Help Wanted. I applied for box boy, lying that I was 16, and got the job. Appearing for work each day after school, I was heckled and called “scab”. I had no idea what that meant. Ah, the joys of naïveté. Fortunately, the heckling had a modicum of good nature in it, and no one (me) was harmed, or beat up.

    When the strike ended, I was hired permanently, because I worked hard. Why I had to pay union dues, I had no idea. All I knew was I had a job and could work hard and get more hours than the other box boys and girls. (I could bag a pile of cans faster than anyone! No plastic in those days, just paper.)

    When I went was a high school senior, I got promoted to clerk, and after the specified number of hours, made journeyman clerk (this by working graveyard shift,as a HS senior). Top dollar!

    This paid my way through college, as my part time/almost full time job as journeyman clerk continued when I went away to college.

    Why tell this story? Because my world view, age 15 to 21, was work harder than the other guy and get more hours (hours equaled $$$). For me, the union stuff equalled background noise. Do more, work harder, fill shelves faster, bag more groceries, check more $$ on the cash register, meant more money. Capitalism thrives in spite of socialism. Unionism is socialism, as I observed first hand.

    In retrospect, in that union environment, I did observe severe angst between management and labor. Every employee hated management. It was cultural. And expected. There was a horizontal glass wall between labor and management. For those who graduated to management, you were branded as a betrayer. A culprit.

    The only explanation for this organizational animosity was unionism. It’s endemic to the union culture. And expected.

    I am glad for experience, though the insights came later. I have no problem with freedom of assembly for those who want to unionize. My angst, as it were, it forced unionization, the antithesis of freedom of association. I would have eschewed the union in a heart beat.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I never was a member of a union; the closest I came was a summer job at a local warehousing company whose workers were in the Teamsters — but I didn’t have to join because I was only temporary. I imagine that few private-sector unions are of much use today (and evidently the workers agree), but they probably should be legal (albeit within limits). Public-employee unions should not be legal, for reasons that even many union and pro-union people have explained — in the past.

    As for the teachers’ unions, note that Albert Shanker of the AFT was accused of having said that they would care about students when the students started to pay union dues. Whether he said it or not, it’s clear that the union bosses basically take that attitude. (We can see something similar these days with the FOP. They’re very unhappy at a virulently anti-police appointee to the Department of Injustice, and no Democrat seems to care. I suspect it’s because they figure that in the end the FOP will support them anyone because their union bosses will be more concerned about being union bosses than being policemen.)

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