By Bill Raabe November 22, 2010 2:29 pm
Timid 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.
Bill Raabe is the Director of Collective Bargaining & Member Advocacy at the National Education Association.