Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is attempting to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees in his state. Republican legislators in my state of Tennessee want to take this right away from teachers. Florida is considering similar legislation. Across the country, elected officials are attempting to roll back the rights earned by American workers through blood, sweat, and tears.
I will admit up front that I am prejudiced. I grew up in a home where my father was a member of a union. More than once, the union went on strike to gain better wages and benefits. Those were not happy days! My wife and daughter have been members of teachers organizations (often referred to as “unions”) that negotiate with local school boards and state legislators for improved wages, better working conditions, and employment protection.
The closest I have come to being a “union” member was when I helped to organize and promote a professional organization called the Association of Southern Baptist Campus Ministers in the 1970s. At least one state director of student work (one who was not my employer) wrote and told me that “BSU [Baptist Student Union] directors don’t need a union.” We did need encouragement, professional development and fellowship, but most all we wanted to exercise our freedom of association. (On a side note, several of the early leaders of ASBCM went on to become state directors of student ministries!)
The freedom to join together as a group to pursue common interests and engage in collective bargaining is based on freedom of association. Although it is not specifically found in the Constitution of the United States of America, it can be inferred from the right of freedom of assembly. By working together for the common good, unions and other organizations have helped to assure fair and equitable treatment for all the members of a group.
I know that there are downsides to such organizations, but they provide a check and balance on the power of employers and even governmental entities. In my experience with public education, I know of several individuals who would have loss their livelihood without the support of the teachers’ organization.
In an age when individualism is extolled but not always rewarded, we need the strength of community and mutual commitment to a common goal. The people of Egypt can testify to the importance of such unity. Working together, we can may a difference.