#642 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #60. Bludgeoning "Union"

It doesn’t take close attention to notice that a prime Republican narrative in this election is anti-union, particularly public sector unions.
Union hating is in. What are the Republicans afraid of?
I spent most of my career – 27 years – representing teachers as an employee of the teacher’s union, first Minnesota Education Association (MEA), now called Education Minnesota.
Before that I was a junior high school teacher and teacher union member and, immediately pre-staff, a local union leader. Before that I was in the Army.
I know a bit about that word “union”.
The first contract under Minnesota’s Public Employment Relations Act (PELRA) coincided with my first year on MEA staff 40 years ago, 1972. Best as I recall, PELRA passed because it was jointly supported by Republican and Democrat leaders of the time. In those quaint old days there was a healthy mix of cooperation and competition. People worked to get the peoples business done in a healthy way.
My last staff assignment included the teachers of South Washington County Distrct #833. I retired from Union work in January 2000, and since October of 2000 I have lived in the same house in Woodbury.
The propagandists in the GOP have long identified the very word, “Union”, as evil, something to be stamped out.
Employees banding together must be fearsome and dangerous, or so it is made to seem. We must have mythical powers to control others.
The argument is absurd, but apparently is thought to be salable to working people who, ironically, owe much of their status as members of the middle class to unions, even if they never belonged to one of the unions which negotiated the wages and benefits people take for granted, and are now losing.
It doesn’t take long to learn that unions are collections of people of differing opinions and concerns. Union members and leaders know this.
Union staff people like myself were and are constantly in a position of having to help people of different minds come to some semblance of agreement. This might be between labor and management; often it is person to person within the union.
Once in my time with #833 there was a very close call on a threatened teacher strike. It was a very cold January night in the mid-1990s, with pickets set to go up the next morning. Very late at night another union staff member and myself had to take the lead to get some very reluctant members to reach a tentative agreement with school district management. Tempers were high for some time; but the resulting proposed contract was easily ratified. The bargaining process had worked.
I don’t recall hearing of a strike in South Washington County #833 in 40 years of collective bargaining; for certain, there were none on my watch, and there have been none since I’ve lived here.
In the early years, when we neophytes in bargaining were learning, there were more strikes. But most of those were clustered in a single year, over 30 years ago.
Union members, like management, learn it is preferable to negotiate and settle differences.
Some do not like the idea of employees being able to negotiate. Public Workers, it seems in particular, are supposed to be Public Servants. My parents were career public school teachers. I know what “Public Servant” means….
My proudest accomplishment in this district, at the very end of my career, was to help organize a Union sponsored and financed Community Conversation About Public Schools in 1999. With the cooperation of the School District, and volunteers like current candidate for legislature JoAnn Ward, a 23 member committee helped community members engage in civil conversations about public education in this community.
Financing for the pilot project came from the National Education Association and Education Minnesota.
The model worked well, but unfortunately was not continued.
I still have the file from 1999, and the 12 page participants guide from the final conversation. It could/should be resurrected.
Like any institution, public or private, unions are not perfect. They are, after all, made up of people.
I dislike the Republican Party and assorted “Independent Expenditure” groups targeting Unions as the problem when, in fact, they are as they have always been, an important part of the solution.
Unions are positive society assets not liabilities. The Democratic Party seems to realize that.
What does the union look like? Here’s a recent picture of one union member, now a 12-years retired Senior Citizen, me:

Dick Bernard, speaking at a recent Fench-Canadian cultural event in Minneapolis.

Tomorrow at this space: the thus far untalked about ‘time bomb’ in the MN Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.

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