Is now the right time to advocate for improved school employees’ salaries?

advocating for fair teacher salariesTimid advocacy is no advocacy at all. We all know that state governments are facing budget difficulties. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities at least 46 states struggled to make cuts to close shortfalls when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year (FY 2011, which began July 1, 2010, in most states). These cuts came on top of the large shortfalls that 48 states faced in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Some might ask: Is now the right time to advocate for improved school employees’ salaries? I answer emphatically: Yes! When a fifteen year, full-time paraeducator for the Yakima, WA school district earns $15,230 and the living wage for Yakima is $34,093, no union can hesitate to advocate. When the average teacher has a 14% hourly wage disadvantage when compared to workers with similar education and experience, we cannot sit on the sidelines wringing our hands and talking about how awful we have it, we must advocate.

I am not foolish enough to promise significant salary gains during these very trying times, yet I am bold enough to say educators deserve significant increases to their base pay. If unions wait for the times to be just right to advocate, our advocacy will never happen, because the times are never “just right.” If we don’t believe to our core that educators deserve professional pay, we’ll always be timid and in tough economic times we’ll be paralyzed.

Advocacy through intense listening to educators, engaging them together in an organized effort can secure “wins” beyond just monetary gains. This kind of advocacy can build strength and commitment. It can build unity and overcome apathy. And, yes it can build power. Power that can be used in legitimate ways to improve the working conditions for educators, the learning conditions for students, and surely the wages earned for doing this most important work.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said:

“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

Advocates don’t need to be safe, or politic, or popular, when it comes to advocating for educators’ salaries, because we know we’re right. Now is exactly the right time to advocate for educator’ salaries. Please, don’t be timid, because if you are, you’re not advocating at all.

Coming next time: Are We Insane?

If we were arguing twenty years ago that school employee salaries were not where they needed to be when compared to like-situated professionals (We were arguing that twenty years ago), and, if we’re arguing the same thing today (we are arguing the same thing today), what makes us think that the same strategies we’ve used over the last twenty years will get us any place different in the next twenty years? We must examine all of our strategies and, yes, we must even examine the current single salary schedule.

In solidarity,


Bill Raabe is the Director of Collective Bargaining & Member Advocacy at the National Education Association.

Comments (8)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is now the right time to advocate for improved school employees’ salaries? | Edvoices --

  2. I cannot agree more: It is always the right time to advocate for improved school employee salaries. It is never the wrong time to advocate for what is fair and just. My recent experiences at the bargaining table are that locals do make gains (surprisingly good gains even in tough times) when the local proposes a fair salary increase and member organizing focuses on members’ value and worth.

  3. Bill,

    You are my hero. I think it is time for use to step up and say that we are not willing to be treated as second class citizens. I have been teaching for about 10 years. When you take into account cost of living (with no adjustment) and health care costs, I have gone backwards in pay each year since 2003. Now, the governer wants to freeze me on the salary schedule. People act as though I am being selfish to be angry about this. My wife and I are both teachers. We have two children. We can barely get by and continue to save for their college and our retirement. If teachers stand up in a tough time like this. People will start to understand how dire the situation really is.

  4. How will you approach this round of bargaining given the economy? Some may say it is disingenuous to put money on the table when school districts are unsure of economics. Others will say that jobs are paramount over increases in compensation. I have also heard, jobs come back, wages never will. Some of my colleagues have said, fine, let’s have well-compensated educators teaching 50 kids in the gym. Chime in. What do you think? What will be your advice at the bargaining table?

  5. I have been a public school teacher since 1978. I have determined that, had my salary kept up with inflation, I would be earning close to $30,000 more per year than I am now. That doesn’t take into account the fact that when I started in this career, health insurance was fully funded. I now pay $525 a month to cover my husband and me. In addition, in my state, health insurance is not covered for retirees. Where does the public get the impression that teachers have great benefits?

  6. I was looking at my W2′s last night. Last year I made $3000 more than I made this year. This is a direct result of state cuts and insurance increases. My out-of-pocket cost to insure my family is$866. After 25 years of teaching, I barely bring home $2000 a month. My husband is in construction. I have a five year old son – save for college? That is a joke! And now the state is talking about even more cuts. And even more requirements. And it is “disingenuous” for me to want more money?

  7. Great hear this from NEA! It is never easy, let’s organize!

  8. Oh hell yes. Finally someone in the NW with some willingness to approach an issue directly! I’m with both you and Mike.

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