Wisconsin Teacher Stands With Courage

We were sent this today and feel it is a story that everyone should hear. It represents exactly what this group wants teachers to do. Elijah Grajkowski is a teacher from Wisconsin, this is his story. His email is listed at the end of the article, if you have the time, send him a few words of encouragement.

My experience with WEAC and why I’ve chosen the non-union option

If the teachers union is as wonderful as it claims, then it should have no problem attracting members, without the need to force teachers to join. How is this any different from any other professional organization that teachers, as professionals, may choose to join? It’s a question I have been pondering since I became a public teacher in Wisconsin.

For years, I have chosen not to be a member of the union. However, this is a choice that I didn’t exactly have before Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill went into law. As a compulsory union state where teachers are required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, the most I could hope for was a “Fair Share” membership, where the union refunded me a small portion of the money that was taken from my paycheck that lawyers have deemed “un-chargeable.”

Every September, after lengthy, bureaucratic and unadvertised hurdles, I would file my certified letter to try to withdraw my union membership. Then, they would proceed to drag their feet in issuing me my small refund. I often wondered why this kind of burden would be put on an individual teacher like me. Shouldn’t it be up to the organization to convince people and sell its benefits to potential members afresh each year? Why should I have to move mountains each fall to break ties with this group that I don’t want to be a part of in the first place? Something seemed dreadfully wrong with that picture.

As a public school teacher in Wisconsin, I’ve thought critically about many unfair policies concerning the teachers union. Why is Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) granted special access to my paychecks through the school district, when other professional groups don’t have this privilege? Why should payroll clerks in school district offices do the job of collecting union dues money and then cutting and sending the union their monthly checks (all on the taxpayers’ dime)? Do other organizations get this privilege? If not, why not? What would happen if I went to my administrator and negotiated my own deal for my own salary and benefits? Why can’t I do this? Maybe I would be able to negotiate something better for myself. I don’t know, as I haven’t been given the chance.

I allowed them access to my paychecks so that they could turn around and tell me just how bad I had it. It’s their job to encourage unrest, discontent and unhappiness amongst the rank and file; this is how they justify their existence. In my opinion, this has encouraged adversarial interactions with administrations. This is not how I want to live my life while being a teacher. I wish to be thankful and grateful about what I have, and realize that there are people out there paying taxes to support my position and benefits. Many Wisconsinites don’t have the salary, security or benefits that I have. I’m really in no position to complain.

All this past spring, I sat watching and listening to Wisconsin teachers and others protesting, shouting, chanting and skipping school to protest in Madison. This is not a group that I wish to be a part of, nor do I wish to be represented by a group who endorses or engages in these kinds of tactics.

Now that I don’t have to pay my “fair share” of union dues, I have been informing my fellow teachers about the premier non-union alternative, the Association of American Educators (AAE). AAE is not a union — it’s a professional, nonprofit organization. The AAE model sees to it that I am fairly and accurately represented via their membership surveys and protected via an individual liability insurance policy and legal counsel. They don’t support partisan politics or issues unrelated to education and their dues are a mere fraction of WEAC. With AAE, I feel like a professional educator, not a union worker that is forced to pay excessive dues and contribute to controversial issues that don’t reflect my beliefs.

This school year, we must let the teachers unions sink or swim on their own, along with the multitude of other professional organizations that teachers can choose to belong to. Now that WEAC no longer has a money stream funneled from legions of Wisconsin teachers, they will have to compete for members just like every other organization. Whether this means downsizing or reducing costs, organizations will be held accountable to market forces. Examine the difference for yourself.

Elijah Grajkowski is a Wisconsin public school teacher. He lives in New Berlin and can be reached at grajkowe@att.net.

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Filed under Speaking Out, Teacher Unions

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