I might’ve entitled this post, “Thank God For Unions”, because I’d been drawn to the teachers’ strike playing out in West Virginia and hearing of a pending teachers’ strike in Oklahoma.
For days, thousands of WV public school educators refused to teach because they were getting lousy benefits. Their salaries ranked 48th in the nation (an average of $44,000 a year). As teachers have retired or left the profession it has resulted in many vacant teaching positions and many teachers in classrooms who are actually not qualified to be there. If teachers aren’t getting a good living wage, you’re not going to see good teachers in classrooms.
Health insurance costs are rising everywhere. It’s a struggle living from paycheck to paycheck. West Virginia’s teachers weren’t actually asking for a raise, they were asking to keep up with the cost of living. I was thrilled that they prevailed in West Virginia. In the process, they improved wages for all public employees across their State.
Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma — and other states — have pushed for cutting taxes for business, resulting in less and less money for public services. In Massachusetts, we’ve had one austerity budget after another. Strong public safety, public education, parks, maintained roads and bridges — these are the cornerstones of thriving communities. When these structures break down, working people rise up.
Massachusetts activists are calling upon their members of the Legislature to let them know how important it is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and for Paid Family and Medical Leave.
For all of my public life, I have championed quality public education for all students across the Commonwealth and across this nation. My husband and I were able to raise our three children in a safe neighborhood and send them to good neighborhood schools because of unions. I will never forget what they did for me and I will always have their backs because I believe in collective bargaining and I know that labor unions are the most effective tool available against income inequality.
And this is why I say, thank god for unions.
Image credit: from a collection in the Millyard Museum, Manchester NH