Professionals Standing Up, Standing Together

A Labor Day Message From AFSA’s President Ernest Logan

Growing up in Harlem, opportunities and options could seem limited. Most of my neighbors with good jobs did manual, physically grueling work. But I aspired to something different.  My parents had instilled in me the importance of education and going to college, and while my father passed away when I was just eight years old, I never forgot the dream he had for me.

I went to college and, like many of my fellow educators, I got an advanced degree that gave me additional skills, provided a credential for advancement, and helped others recognize me as a professional. For more than 25 years, I walked the halls of public schools — as an English teacher, assistant principal, and principal.

When I started working in a classroom some peers said you don’t need a union.  You’re a professional, they’d say. When I became a school leader, I heard people say I didn’t need a union.  Now you’re management, they rationalized.

Thankfully, I never felt that way. I knew better.

I always understood that no matter the job, a union gave me a voice and, together with my brothers and sisters, it gave me the power to accomplish great things for myself, my colleagues, and the students we served.

On this Labor Day, we all need to join hands, recognize the value of standing up for ourselves and each other, and look to the future. If you have been sitting on the sideline it’s time to stand up to protect your profession and grow your union.

Let’s not forget that while school leaders are professionals and managers, we are also employees who have the same problems as my blue-collar friends in Harlem. We need good working conditions to do our jobs well: sane hours, a reasonable workload, a decent wage, guarantees of fair benefits, and protection from unjust treatment.  We deserve respect and recognition of our skills, education, and expertise.

Many principals, assistant principals and division leaders lack control of their work lives, even more than most other white-collar workers face. In non-union environments, most decisions concerning wages, benefits, and working conditions rest solely on the discretion of a school board, management, and politicians. This structure leads to conflicts between educators concerned about the quality of their work and others more concerned with trimming budgets.

For decades, rich and powerful interests, private school promoters, and corporations have tried to keep us weak and divided. They have rigged the economy to work for the few people at the expense of the many.

They’ve attacked our schools and have tried to profit from their politics. They’ve used politics to try to divide us and destroy our unions. And too many of America’s leaders have done their bidding, waging an assault on our most fundamental freedoms.

But the tide is turning. Something is happening here in America. People are uniting and rising up in every corner of the country.

Just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled against our unions in the Janus case, voters in Missouri vehemently said they won’t stand for “Right to Work” and voted to get rid of the law.  Union members are marching, organizing and educating. Just look how teachers changed the debate and stood up for what they deserve in such unexpected places as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona. Even today we see actions in Washington state.

Educators across the nation are refusing to accept business as usual. They are showing that we have power in our unions and at the ballot box.

As you celebrate this Labor Day, remind your friends, family and co-workers how much is at stake—from our paychecks and benefits to our basic dignity on the job and even the future of public schools.

And remember that critical elections are just two months away.  Victory in November will be delivered by conversations. More than anyone, you have the ability to win hearts and minds and ensure that professionals have a say in the future of our country.

ASFA will be working especially hard for you this fall.  And we have the resources you need to make a difference in your community and at the polls.  Stay informed on what you can do this November by texting “vote” to 235246.

As a new school year begins, let’s take this Labor Day to recommit ourselves to working together to secure a better future for ourselves, our families, our students, and our country.