Albert Meyer: In public schools, ‘labor’ and ‘management’ can be a team
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 10:33 p.m.
In the Nov. 8 Sun article about Leanetta McNealy’s election to the Alachua County School Board with union support, it is reported that Superintendent Daniel Boyd said, “... having such support can be a double-edged sword because there should be clear differences between labor and management.”
I suggest that this is a false dichotomy, especially when applied to public institutions. Today, public schools are under attack by those wishing to reduce significantly their role in educating our young. Major issues on this battlefront have to be fought by teacher unions and all managers wishing to maintain improved public schools.
I was a public employee union (SEIU/PEF) representative in New York for many years when workers and management faced many common problems, such as funding, maintaining a mission of servicing the public and many others.
As Stanley Aronowitz maintained in his book, “The Last Good Job in America,” most professionals and managers today are situated in regards to their employers as workers and should be in unions. Indeed, I was a professional who was elected as a representative in my union, and continued to be re-elected even once I held supervisory roles
This doesn’t mean that labor and management never have disagreements. However, the way these issues are resolved is what is important. There are even disagreements among workers, but these are resolved in a democratic manner.
On another level, I believe Superintendent Boyd overlooks another factor; that the School Board members are elected. That means they are responsible to their constituents. Who are the majority of these constituents? They are mainly workers and their families, along with students (among graduate students, a number have children in our schools) and the unemployed.
Keeping Aronowitz’s view of who is a worker, I think it can fairly well be said that most constituents are from working class families. Indeed, I have been surprised by how many teachers in this town have their children in our schools.
Unions are the manifestation of workers organized to pursue their interests and that of the whole community. Thus the School Board’s responsibilities to its constituents means paying attention to the working people (and those who wish to work). The union’s positions thus become virtually identical to the needs of the constituents and the mythical double-edged sword.
I know that in my many years as a union rep, one of the things we had to fend of was those in highest management telling us how we should see our jobs. We then told them that we represent our employees and spoke for the interests of our clients, and that if they listened to what we said it would be best for the entire community.
That turned out to be the case in New York state, and can be true in Alachua County now.
Albert Meyer lives in Gainesville.