Why 1 Wis. Teacher is Joining the Protests

It’s easy for those among us who have gotten by in life without union membership to look down our snoots at those who pay union dues. And it’s true that unions have to some degree made a hash of things. One example: Teachers unions that have demonstrated a tendency to value employee longevity over teaching ability, and which have helped make American education the 17th best in the world. (Woo-hoo!)

That said, it is also easy for those of us who are not union members to forget the rights that unions have secured for virtually all workers. And that’s what was on the mind of Sara Milewski, who teaches at Glendale Elementary in Madison, Wis., when she posted the following message on her Facebook page (as quoted in the Cap Times newspaper):

… I am going to the Capitol today. Without a union, teacher wages would be so low that I wouldn’t be able to remain in the career that I love. Without a union, I wouldn’t have the health insurance coverage I do have that has caught and is following a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication. Without a union, I wouldn’t have the sick days that I do have. Without unions, maternity leave wouldn’t exist. Without my own union brothers and sisters, who donate days to a sick leave bank each year, I wouldn’t be able to take paid maternity leave. Without the action of a union, if it were 30 years ago, I would have had to resign my job as soon as my pregnancy started to show.

Believe me, I’d rather be in my classroom today, doing what I love to do: Teaching kids. With the schools closed, that is a moot point. But I will not take pay today by going into an empty school. I am going down to the Capitol to protest a bill that attempts to balance the budget on the backs of teachers and other middle class public servants. I am going down to the Capitol to protect my future in the career I love. I am going to the Capitol to defend the state I love. I am going to the Capitol for my children and my union brothers and sisters who fought so hard before me.

There is a lot of political crap going on in my home state of Wisconsin. An opportunistic new Republican governor is taking a “radical and punitive” approach to resolving the state’s budget deficit by giving in to his Reaganite fantasies and moving to strip away the collective bargaining power of public employees.

Meanwhile, a less than stalwart Democratic minority in the Assembly is taking a page out of the Texas playbook and literally running and hiding from its duties.

But that’s politics. What these politicians are dealing with is people’s lives and well-being. That’s why the protesters are flocking to Madison and partying like it’s 1968.

Everyone who does not worship at the altar of Ayn Rand would do well to remember that the collective bargaining rights our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents fought for–and sometimes bled for and occasionally even died for–have benefited us all. And it is doubly important to recall that, before unions and their organizers secured those rights for all American workers, life on the job was an often hellish prospect.

If you don’t believe it, go out and buy a well-thumbed copy of Upton Sinclair’s ghastly “The Jungle.”

And by the way, that eight-hour work day you enjoy? Thank the union movement. The overtime pay you draw when you work more? Ditto. That paid vacation you’re taking in June? Ditto ditto. That Social Security plan you’re depending on when you retire? Triple ditto.

Before he turns Madison into Cairo, Gov. Walker may want to rethink his stance. There have to to be ways to spread the needed sacrifice around to balance the budget without completely kneecapping public employees.

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