A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Unions and Harassment

I’ve long been uneasy a with the word harassment. God, how many phone calls did I answer over the years from members accusing some administrator of having harassed them? How many claimed harassment by another member. Too often, what was angrily described to me as harassment turned out upon investigation to be a rebuke of some kind by an administrator for some perceived shortcoming like not getting to work on time or the failure to complete assigned work. Member complaints were frequently instances in which a member or members tried to get the caller to follow a union action that we had voted to do. “Morty, tell the building reps to stop harassing me. I don’t pay dues to be harassed.”

Imposing what I call democratic discipline is problematical for union leaders in the best of times. In the current environment in which we talk about things like micro-aggressions, a time when we appear to be unable to distinguish between the boorish behavior of Senator Fraken and the deviancy of a Roy Moore, the job of union leaders to maintain cohesion around union policies and actions is infinitely more difficult and fraught with increased possibility of those loosely bonded to the union perceiving attempts to bring them in line as harassment.

When I tongue-lashed a member who didn’t show up for picket duty during a strike, was I harassing them? When our union called for a demonstration and I told the members we would be taking attendance, was I harassing them? Did I help to create a hostile work environment by refusing to talk to teachers who scabbed during one of our strikes?

Good unions make decisions democratically and implement them in an organized, disciplined manner, sometimes reminding those who would prefer to go their own way of their obligation to the group, in some cases shaming them into doing the right thing. I fear that today the democratic demand for discipline will be perceived as harassment.

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