Last week, the Idaho Statesman ran this column by Cindy Omlin, exec director of an outfit called the Northwest Professional Educators. She said many teachers are joining organizations such as hers because they are alternatives to the traditional teacher's unions. As I read it, I found myself wondering who's really behind this group and what hidden agenda it's promoting.
Some of the answers were forthcoming yesterday in a rebuttal op-ed from Kathy Phelan, current president of the Idaho Education Association. According to Phelan, anyway, the NPE and its parent group the Association of American Educators are funded by folks who want to promote school vouchers and otherwise undermine public education.
I went to the NPE and AAE websites to see if I could find clues to these ties, and none were readily available. But I was struck by the fact that much of the sites' content (and Omlin's op-ed, for that matter) aimed to bash unions, not promote better education.
"Teachers are not blue-collar laborers; they are academic professionals like lawyers, scientists and engineers," Omlin wrote in her Statesman piece. "Industrial-style collective bargaining does not advance the respect or compensation that educators deserve."
I had similar feelings in the mid-1980s, when I was working for The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, and my union - The Newspaper Guild - was frequently battling with management. We're all professionals, I thought. What's with this artificial adversarial relationship between the rank-and-file and managers?
And yet, that job paid better by far than any other staff position I ever held. The benefits were superb, too. Unfortunately, today's Vindy employees are now in their seventh month of a strike against management that hasn't given them a raise in four years, management that has consistently downgraded union members' health coverage (while leaving their own intact), and management that has brought in strike-breaking workers paid at higher rates than the regular reporters.
In Youngstown, that union exists for a reason. And in a right-to-work state like Idaho, a strong union is such a rare thing that we have to cheer for its continued success.