Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Unionizing Substitute Teachers

My local union, which won't allow me to be a member because I refuse to be a member of the state and national unions as well, has what can only be described as among the stupidest ideas on the planet--the leadership is considering unionizing our district's substitute teachers. There's so much wrong with this proposal that I almost don't know where to start.

1. If subs become union members, they'll also have to be CTA/NEA members. Those fees are fixed, and I don't think there's a lower fee for subs. That means that subs, who make a whopping $100/day when they work, will pay a disproportionate amount of their salaries to a union.

2. Substitutes often register with several local districts, thereby increasing their chances of getting a job on any particular day. Making it more expensive to work in our district, which already is not the highest-paying in the area, will have the practical result of reducing the number of substitutes available to us.

3. The union says that by unionizing the substitutes, we can have a more "professional" sub cadre--because then we'd be able to provide more/better training for them. What training does the union need to provide? The quality, training, and qualifications of teachers is the responsibility of the school district, not the union. Even still, if the union thinks subs could be better, why not just provide training now? How would their membership in the union make them more trainable? Shouldn't the union's position be that the district should bring subs up to standard, if they are in fact substandard? ("Sub"standard--get it! Sometimes I slay myself.)

4. Is the union saying there's something wrong with the subs we currently have? "You suck--join our union" doesn't sound like the greatest rallying cry.

5. Here's a selfish reason. There's only so much money for salaries--it truly is a zero-sum game. Bargain for the subs and get more for them, that means I don't get as much.

If you can identify other reasons why this is a bad idea, please list them in the comments.

It's obvious that this isn't really an issue about sub competence, although oddly that's how it's being sold. It's clearly nothing more than an entrenched bureaucracy, the union, trying to grow itself. CTA did it by recently voting to allow non-teacher school workers to join CTA, no doubt ticking off the classified employees' California State Education Association.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--a union that gets my money against my will should at least focus on my pay, benefits, and working conditions. Taking that money and trying to unionize others--so it can be entitled to their money as well--doesn't sit well with me. And it shouldn't sit well with my fellow teachers, either.


The Rain said...

I think you might be incorrect about them needing to be a member of the two parent unions. In my district the subs pay $1 a month in union dues, nothing to the WEA and NEA. Ostensibly this is because we bargain the sub pay, though I haven't seen us do a whole lot in that regard.

Two other things I thought of:

1) What could your local or any local really offer the subs? The training argument doesn't hold a lot of water, to me, and logistically how would they manage? Could a sub registered in three different districts conceivably vote in each district?

2) Organized subs could be a nightmare for the very people who organized them. If you're a large district that has hundreds of subs, imagine if they acted as one voting block. They could easily take over.

KauaiMark said...

If I join, does that mean I'll get access to health insurance, paid vacations and a pension?

Nah! I didn't think so..

lsand said...

Subs in LAUSD have been unionized for many years. It has been a long time since I subbed, but I think I paid a considerably lower rate. Actually, I was surprised that it has taken them this long to get around to subs. I think the students will be next.

Anonymous said...

In response to KauaiMark -- in LAUSD -- yes, no and yes.

Anonymous said...

Accepting subs means more money and political clout for the union,
which they want. But you are absolutely right. If this goes through, they now represent teachers, subs, and classifieds. There are only so many pieces of the money pie. Who are they going to make the priority? Honestly, if I were classified or a sub I wouldn't be that excited about the teacher's union supposedly representing me.

Anonymous said...

Unionizing subs would give them access to legal representation in case a student or parent got...annoying.

Joel said...

I recently noticed commentary about the insanity of those who want to set up a separate substitute union. Critics of this idea ignore the fact that substitutes work on an on-call basis and can be let go at the drop of a hat. Basically, subs have no effective protections, as they can be written up for almost any real or imagined infractions of the rules.

In fact, it is hardly unusual for "regular" teachers to "forget" to leave lesson plans or for on-site administrators and main offices to provideactual assignments which have no relationship to the assignments these substitutes were called in to substitute for. Moreover, since substitutes can be written up by "regular" teachers, substitutes are sometimes put in an adversarial relationship with the teachers, administrators, and teachers unions.

Substitutes generally have little voice in terms of their working conditions and daily pay.

- From jm8257

Darren said...

Joel, for all the reasons you gave, the *teachers union* is not the appropriate union to represent the substitute teachers--if you take for granted that they should be unionized at all.

Newsguy said...

I am a sub, just started, but I have been a member of AFTRA and SAG for years and I am very glad I have had the benefits my unions have fought hard for. I have a very nice AFTRA pension for life, and union health benefits for my family. Haven't done enough movie work yet to qualify for SAG benefits, but I do have the protection of the union on a set and they have lots of side benefits like classes and seminars and screenings, and so on.

I sub because it keeps me active. I am semi retired and it's nice to have the extra money. I am about to join the teachers' union and after a certain number of hours i will get even more health benefits.

It is short-sighted to dismiss union benefits. There is no way a worker can have any power in the workplace except through collective bargaining.

People have fought and actually died for the right to organize and join unions. It was unions that helped build the middle class in this country and because there has been an active anti-union government for the past 25 years, union membership has declined. The result has been a growing income gap between rich and poor and a shrinking middle class.

Darren said...

Newsguy, apparently you misunderstand me on at least two counts.

1. I have no issue with substitutes' being unionized. I have an issue with them being in the same union as teachers.

2. I'm not totally against unionization. I support collective bargaining. It's the state and national teachers unions that disgust me.

3. What unions have done in the past has been good for America. However, much like investing, "past performance does not guarantee future returns." Unions haven't changed with the times, and hence many are dying off like the dinosaurs they are. The share of the unionized workforce in this country has dropped precipitously in the last generation or so--it would be worse except for the growth of public sector unions.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think there should be a union for subs, because subs can also be coaches and if something happens between the parents or even the kid that coach can be penalized and no legal representation. So there definitely needs to be some kind of represntation because how can you send a sub into a classroom when anything could happen and now a days people are so sue happy who knows what they will sue for!!!!

Joel said...

From: Joel

I am referring to earlier comments regarding the feasibility and usefulness of substitute teachers unions.

The problem with organizing is a substitute teachers union is that it is damned difficult to organize a separate union just for subs given the transient nature of this class of employees. Hence, subs have to be organized as part of a larger teachers union affiliate, although as junior members. From nearly 3 years of trying to do this, I realize that the likelihood of obtaining this junior membership depends on whether the regular teachers local is a part of the CTA/NEA, in which case resistance from the teachers union local is likely to make it impossible to happen or whether the local is part of the CFT/AFL, in which case, it is much more likely to occur.

Substitute teachers in California need at least some level of protection, as they are terminated completely at the arbitrary discretion of the the local school district for real or imagined causes, or more often, for no cause, whatsoever, with the termination letter merely citing the school district's authority under the Education Code.

Joel's Blog Site said...

From: Joel

The CTA & CFT does have subs within their membership largely so they can collect dues and prevent subs from crossing picket lines. Moreover, because of the "reasonable assurance" letters the districts automatically send at the end the regular school term, subs are screwed out of unemployment benefits. They are also screwed out of work/pay at the beginning of each fall, because the laid off teachers work as subs for the first few weeks of every term.

Subs need some level of protection and membership in a union seems to be the only practical means available.

Anonymous said...

I am in search of advice. I need some level of protection that is being discussed.

I have been subbing recently, and one school has asked that I not return. No explanation was given, and I can't get a call back as to what the reason was. I can recall no reason whatsoever that I did anything egregious or wrong in any way. I am confused and saddened. If I did or was doing something the school staff, a teacher, or parent did not like, why am I not afforded the right and treated with respect by informing me of my error and giving me the chance to correct my mistake(s) or change my behavior?

What did I do wrong? I have no idea, at all. I am professional - I show up on time, I am thoughtful and curteous to everyone I meet, I supervise, manage and teach the children in the classroom for the teacher requesting a substitute teacher fro the day(s) needed.

Quite the opposite of this - Other teachers have told me they are grateful to have me in their class or at their school - One recently told me, "Thanks for coming to our school to sub. It's nice to have someone who knows what they're doing and cares about the kids." This was a day after I had received the other school's notice.

Can anyone give me some advice or direction? Thank you.

Darren said...

I have none for you. Your situation sucks.

I'm stupid said...

When I factor summer and holiday vacations, ect, i'm making about $11.50 an hour. And I am in higher paying districts (3) in so Cal. Gosh I'm so glad I took all that time struggling with homework and taking student loans out to get my MA! If I hadn't I'd only be making $10.50 an hour at Home Depot as a cashier! Er...wait that's only a dollar less. Oh well, at least I have tens of thousands of dollors to pay off in student loans and I can't afford to buy a house or even rent a cheap apartment. Whew

Unknown said...

Very well said union union union!

Anonymous said...

When I first started subbing I signed up with several districts because I was unsure about how much work I would be offered. Only one district informed me that money would be taken for the union, regardless of whether I would join or not. Since money was going to be taken regardless of joining, of course I joined. I do have a lower payment rate than a full-time teacher. However, I am only considered to be part of the union in that one district, and I am not union backed in any other district that I work in. There was only one time I contacted the union for advice about a minor incident that luckily resolved itself. I felt that on that one contact with the union that I was not really helped, and felt I was not taken seriously because of the fact that I am a substitute. Since then I really felt that I will most likely have to be my own best advocate if any incident does occur in the future. I have also in the past asked if there is anyway to be more involved in the district, CTA, or NEA. I was told I was only a substitute teacher so the answer was no. They do have special opportunities for teachers, but not subs. I was disappointed but have managed to somewhat involve my self by using websites, and reading materials. I often get comments by teachers that I really do not understand teaching because I am only a substitute. However, I sometimes feel that as a substitute I do have some well rounded experiences they do not have just because I had been in so many different districts, schools and classrooms. These experiences have shown me a different cultural views and different management styles. I use to take 30 day assignments one after another, but that became disheartening because just when you figured out the school, the students and were in the routine, that is when you had to move on to starting over. Teachers only have to do that at the beginning of the year, every 30 days was heart breaking. Now I space out my 30 day assignments. I like the days before the NCLB, when you could stay longer than 30 days. Teachers try to tell me that it is so much better to have the NCLB rulings. I guess it is perspective. Good luck to all and my best advice is to be prepared to be your own best advocate, because subs live in a world of their own. Or so, that is how I feel from my experience.