Op-Ed: Collective Bargaining For Teachers Raises The Bar For All Of Us

by | Feb 16, 2023 | Education, Opinion

Our public schools and education workforce are in crisis. Despite broad support for public schools and staff, 77 percent of educators considered leaving their job in 2022, up by 19 percent since 2020. A Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT) survey showed teachers felt forced to leave the profession due to low wages, poor working conditions, and safety concerns. Whether Black, brown or white, it costs all of us when our schools and workforce are underfunded and treated poorly. 

Teachers, staff, and students know best how to overcome these challenges. Teachers’ unions, like the Texas AFT, are on the front lines working hard to ensure teacher and staff voices are heard by our state and public school leadership. Yet, Governor Abbott and the state’s most powerful elected officials are working against us –– the hard working families striving for shared prosperity in Texas. Our voices are up against the most powerful elected officials who answer to the wealthiest corporations seeking billion dollar tax giveaways that pass on the cost to fund public education to working Texans like me and you.

Teachers and education workers are our family, friends, and neighbors. Texans of all backgrounds, whether from Amarillo, Houston, or McAllen, value and support our public schools, teachers, and staff. A 2022 Charles Butt Foundation poll shows that 68 percent of Texan parents think their schools are doing well and give an A or B rating.

To achieve our collective vision for a fair and well funded public education regardless of our zip code, educators should be able to work together to address their needs and standards. 

History and data consistently show how unions can raise the bar for all of us. Ultimately, our teachers’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. It’s time for teachers to collectively bargain so we can finally achieve the public education system that works for every Texan.

What is collective bargaining? 

Collective bargaining is the process by which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, health, and safety. Collective bargaining can solve workplace issues and ensure the most powerful people and institutions don’t disregard workers’ voices. 

Every worker in Texas has the right to join a union. However, in Texas, only private sector union workers are allowed to collectively bargain, whereas public sector workers, like teachers and education staff, are banned from collective bargaining. 

Yet Texas lawmakers made an exception to the state’s ban on public sector bargaining for police and firefighters in the state statute: “Denying firefighters and police officers the right to organize and bargain collectively would lead to strife and unrest, consequently injuring the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Like police and firefighters, teachers and education staff are first responders. They protect our children when horrific, unforgivable, and unforgettable violence strikes, as has happened too often in recent years. 

The state’s most powerful elected officials banned public sector bargaining to help maintain their power over working people. Banning public sector workers from collective bargaining is discriminatory and doesn’t reflect the shared values that everyday, hardworking Texans hold today. In fact, the law is rooted in the South’s confederate legacy of slavery and Jim Crow era segregation. And with the education workforce predominantly women; Texas’ ban on public sector collective bargaining keeps women’s wages lower than they should be.

Together, we can demand our teachers have the right to collectively bargain and raise the bar for all of us. No matter our skin color or where we were born, Texans of every background want a fair economy so all workers can share in the prosperity their labor creates. Allowing continued, systemic decline of public education staff salaries, benefits, and working conditions at the hands of powerful corporations and their friends in high places will cost everyone no matter where we live or how much money we earn. 

As parents, community members, and families, we need to stand in solidarity with our teachers and ensure they get the best tools to build an education system that is safe, fair, and advances our communities’ deep commitment to our children –– our future. We can balance the power, take action, and demand our lawmakers support teachers’ right to collectively bargain. 

Amanda Posson is a senior policy analyst at Every Texan and the mom of two public school children  

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