Many readers have been critical of their unions and wish they were more militant in fighting the corporate suits. This reader disagrees and explains why:

I’m going to go out on a limb here because the comments I am about to post are probably not going to be very popular with anyone who has commented in this discussion.So many people want their state and national teachers unions to launch a campaign of all-out protest toward the corporate reform movement.If anyone here has not yet noticed, there is a great deal of public dissatisfaction with the mere idea of public unions, let alone their actions. It would be political suicide for unions at any level to come out with “horses on fire and guns a-blazing” against these public perceptions. I have found that unions will seek to publicly take the high road in working towards better ways to improve the system.

There are times to get aggressive, but for all the “right-is-on-our-side” mentality among union members, there are plenty of people with the mentality that any aggressive union action (whether in word or deed) is negative. This negative public perception was demonstrated in Wisconsin, and it can and does continually appear in just about every other state in this country. Too many people in the public do not understand the value of unions nor know the history behind the formation and support of unions throughout the last century. Many union members themselves do not even have a background in this.

This is not a time for unions to take a defensive position–there are ways to approach these issues without giving the anti-union camp more fodder to spread their “unions are bad” message.

There are many facets to the politics of the cause that can work for or against the public perception of the unions. Whether you as a purist believe that the public perception is not important is irrelevant—it is of great importance if one wishes to garner support for public education.

There truly are no advocates for teachers and public education with any kind of position of effectiveness outside of the public teachers unions. Therefore, one must tread lightly when publicly criticizing the unions. That is not to say that members should feel as if they cannot have any critical opinions—these opinions must be voiced to the union leadership, but it is never a good idea to publicly criticize your own union as a member. It only weakens everybody’s position including that of the members themselves.

Unions invariably seek to effect positive influence on policies that affect public education. One of the most effective avenues of influencing positive public education policies is through conversations with legislators in the public forum. Union members should maintain a presence in their state legislature’s public sessions–the policy-makers need to hear from the unions especially before enacting some of the horrific proposals by some factions of the political arena.

Another way to be an effective force in public education is to continually work within a public advocacy program to show the public that unions not only work to continually improve schools, they continually work to improve communities.

I ask those who are critical of the national unions: How many of you have taken the time to attend your state legislature sessions to speak up about the policies in the public forum? I’m sure there are some here and there, but it has been my experience that most union members who complain about the union have never done this very thing. Have you at least made a phone call or sent an email to your legislators? If you have not joined in the conversation and simply left that to your representation, then it might be safe to say that you are not part of the solution. It’s so easy to be critical of your union representation when you have not gotten involved. Once you see what is required of union representation on many levels, you can take a more informed position of criticism toward what union leadership actually does.

For those who have had bad experiences and felt your local representation did very little to help you, know that you should never be left without recourse. Just like in any other area, there are varying levels of effectiveness among local associations. This is why there are country and state affiliations, just like in the court system. Take it to a higher level if you are not satisfied with the local level. Your personal situations are understandably important to you, but it is not fair to characterize every local in every state across the country as the same, just as it is not fair to characterize every teacher, student, school, district, etc. in the same way. We have used this “avoid generalizations” argument time and again in discussions on this blog. I caution anyone who is using one example as evidence of how all locals operate to be a little more responsible.

In my state, engaging in conversations with the public policy-makers is just what one of the state unions does. This practice has effectively prevented many bad policy ideas from becoming law despite what some perceptions of the actions of union leadership might be. I applaud the leaders and members of our state union for having not only the courage to continually speak up, but also for working WITH the legislature to ensure that public demands for improvement are answered without demeaning of devaluing the professionals who work in the school system.

We do not operate in a public vacuum–we do need to be quite aware of the needs and perceptions of our constituency. We also need to be aware of how damaging perceptions without evidence can be.

It’s amazing that so many union members themselves believe in the existence of “back-door” deals about which so many conspiracy theorists and anti-union pundits are always going on. When did the membership start believing this hype? Where is your evidence that union leaders are conspiring with the “reformers?”

This link posted above by another reader (touting how national unions are “in bed” with the Gates Foundation) caught my attention:

You have to read a great deal before you even get to the excerpt that speaks to this claim, but here it is:
“While the foundation has given money to both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, totaling about $6.3 million over the last three years, some of its newer initiatives appear aimed at challenging the dominance that unions have exercised during policy debates.”

An article on the Gates foundation with an excerpt stating that the foundation gave money to union membership three years ago is not evidence of anything–it is supposition based on a concept that every donation has an agenda. Does the reader have any evidence of how that donation was appropriated? I also wonder where that money went. Let’s find out before we use this as “evidence” that the unions are “sleeping with the enemy.”

It is never a good idea to try to sway public opinion by openly declaring war on what many of the uninformed have convinced themselves to be “good” policies (i.e., “corporate reform”). The political stronghold on the public message belongs to those with the power and influence to control these messages, and in case no one has noticed, it isn’t the teachers unions. A great deal of the public does not support the public unions because people have been fed a constant diet of anti-union rhetoric by the powerful voices in politics. I have found even among my teaching colleagues, that just being affiliated with a teachers union turns people off from listening to you. Do you seriously think that you can change the message as a union without flack from the usual anti-union camp that is so powerful in the media and in politics?

You need a strategy of positive influence and cooperation, not a defensive posture. One needs to heed the lessons of good public relations as a union member. Start by supporting your own unions–ask questions, yes, but never, NEVER put your union down publicly because you’re so angry. Work from within the system that advocates for you, whether you want to believe it actually does or not. And for those who do not believe that the unions advocate for you, try doing your job without the unions. While I’m sure there would be isolated instances of “great non-union experiences,” the majority of us would be mistreated in our jobs just by the very nature of human nature and the public’s perception of “public service.”