To the Editor:
In general, I agree with Paul Reville in his recent Commentary that unions have the responsibility to be involved at a level beyond member advocacy (“Teachers’ Unions Must Decide Their Future,” July 26, 2018). As a 37-year employee of teachers’ unions and a retired executive director of the Ohio Education Association, I believe I can also speak directly to Reville’s concerns.
Teachers’ union leaders must find a way to balance their member advocacy obligations with their professional obligation to have a voice in key decisions about public education. Union leaders can and often will accept broader strategic leadership roles—even to the extent of conceptualizing and leading creative school reform efforts—but no one should expect that reform to occur at the expense of their responsibilities to members.
Union leaders have a sequence of responsibilities. In that sequence, advocacy and protection of members are of highest priority, but close behind are the effectiveness of their members’ work and the general public’s respect for public education. The ultimate measure of union effectiveness is whether its members feel effective, satisfied, respected, and recognized in their work each day. Consequently, most progressive unions prioritize, in about this order: member protection, recognition, contribution and effectiveness, and daily satisfaction in their work. If teachers’ unions put all their emphasis on protecting members and neglect their professional role of representing the interests of the public education industry, they are providing their members less representation than they deserve.
Robert Barkley Jr.
Retired Executive Director
Ohio Education Association
A version of this article appeared in the September 05, 2018 edition of Education Week as Unions Must Go Beyond Advocacy