Teachers on the picket line?

Since March 3, the Strongsville teachers’ strike has been the subject of gossip statewide. Even the San Francisco Chronicle reported on this local story that happens to symbolize the most divisive issue facing public education today. The right of teachers to unionize affects every school district during this era of budgetary cutbacks and mass layoffs, and it is particularly important to Cleveland Heights and University Heights as the local teacher’s union prepares to negotiate a new contract this spring.

As a high school student, I feel the right of workers to unionize cannot be impeded for the sake of efficiency. Although feelings run high during strikes, this is ultimately the process whereby workers and management agree to compensation that both sides believe is fair. We sacrifice the quality of our schools and lower the incentive for qualified people to teach if we restrict collective bargaining. For the future, it would be wise for the Heights to stand firm on the legitimacy of an educators’ union.

The Heights teachers contract expires this June, and Ari Klein, Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (CHTU) president since last April, will lead negotiations. Just before his election, the union fought Senate Bill 5, Gov. Kasich’s move to restrict public sector unions, and was vindicated by the repeal of the bill during a referendum by Ohio voters in November 2011. Last February, a CHTU online bulletin warned that “attacks are not going to stop with the repeal of SB 5” and that “[a]ny teacher who believes that [this is] the time to be complacent needs to be woken up quickly.”

There is an extensive list of grievances on the CHTU website, which includes a “bargaining poll” completed by much of the membership. As June approaches, it is likely CHTU will ramp up its press releases. Union leadership has made strong political stands before, and even asked members to approve a petition calling for drastic change in “high-stakes” testing, which they claim is responsible for harming children.

With a 41-year CHTU streak of raising salaries, it seems unlikely that district teachers would willingly face a wage freeze if the administration refuses to increase pay. So the question then becomes whether the teachers have the right to strike in that event, and whether we can restrict collective bargaining should teachers “abuse” this power.

At this point in American history, the discussion is no longer whether unions can exist. They can, and they also have the right to bargain, and to strike should negotiations be unfavorable. Striking is the backbone of unions. Without it, they are powerless associations of like-minded professionals subject to the will of their superiors. Because of striking, unions can find compromises with the best possible pay for workers and the least possible expense for management. This means that unionized workforces are happier, more productive, and ultimately more profitable.

While teaching isn’t geared toward profitability, teachers still need to be competent, and educators in unions are better instructors. It’s futile to debate restricting collective bargaining on legal grounds, because a clear precedent exists, and it's illogical, because unions create parity and efficiency. When we question if we can remove the right to strike, we cannot. Without it, unions lose the tool by which their members receive fair treatment. For CH-UH, and for the nation as a whole, we shouldn’t think of ways to reduce the rights of unions. Union members work in our factories, our offices and our classrooms, and to seize their rights is an assault on us all.

Alastair Pearson

Alastair Pearson is a Cleveland Heights resident, and a student at Saint Ignatius. He is editor of the opinion page for the school newspaper, and is involved in the school's literary magazine.

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Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 11:02 AM, 03.11.2013