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Non-union labor

My experience her in Hangzhou is opening my eyes to some ideas that I haven't experienced as a professional until now. I've been working in a union job for nearly thirty years. I was raised around unions and had their importance stressed to me often as a young man.



Editors note: I didn't have a good picture for this post, so you get this one of me happily grinding through some math.


My step-father Stephen was the president of the postal workers union in Tacoma when I was in high school. He was constantly fighting the good fight for the employees there. My sense was that it was a constant struggle to keep a bunch of Vietnam veterans employed on a daily basis. They made up a large percentage of the postal work force back in the 80s.


When I was first hired at Meridian High School in 1993 I was asked to be the union treasurer. I said sure as it felt like the right thing to do. I always avoided the negotiations aspect when it came to dealing with the district and our contract, but I tried to pay attention to the details of what we were contracted to do as part of our job. Hourly and daily work requirements were at the top of that list. What sort of meetings we had to attend versus the times we had the option to avoid extra time commitments.


Fast forward thirty years and I've found myself in a new world. This is my first professional experience without a district wide labor agreement in place. Some differences...


  • Daily hours at work. The school day is longer here by 30 minutes each day. The first class of the day starts at 8;00am and the last period ends at 3:00pm. We're expected to be in our rooms 30 minutes before and after.

  • There are many more meetings each week. I have a department meeting each Wednesday that generally lasts an hour (common planning time). This happens during a shared planning period, not outside the normal workday. We have a faculty meeting every Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:30.

  • We work a lot more days in the year. Back at Meridian it was 180 days with students and 3 extra work days. Here it's 180 days with students and 10 extra work days.

  • Every teacher is assigned three 20 minute "duty" responsibilities each week. These occur during break, lunch, before and after school. It's supervisory in nature. They never want students unsupervised. These can happen during your lunch. The concept of an unencumbered lunch isn't a thing here.

  • They don't hire substitute teachers. If a teacher is gone for some reason they can assign you to cover for a period or two. No, there's no compensation for doing this. Administration sees your planning time as fully flexible. If they need you to do something you get assigned to do it. The chaotic nature of running a school means that at times it's going to feel unfair and arbitrary at times when it comes to the administration taking away your plannning time.


I can't say I mind the extra work hours and days. I used to put in that time anyway back at Meridian. I'm a bit worried I'm making this sound too negative. There are positives as well.


  • Everyone is NOT treated exactly the same all the time. I get paid more than some others because of what I teach. It's the highest level math class in an environment that comes with some very public pressure. Further, supply and demand factors in big time. I'm a unicorn compared to some other teachers. I've got a lot of experience teaching both advanced placement calculus and advanced placement statistics. HIS has not been shy letting me know they appreciate having me here.

  • Besides the paycheck, they also opted to make sure my travel gets reimbursed when they didn't have to. They are going to be flexible in this area this coming summer and I appreciate it.


Similarities? These people care about kids. It's similar to being at Meridian. Teachers don't get into the profession for the money and prestige. Further, they stay in the profession because they get a personal satisfaction knowing that they're putting a positive karmic influence out into the world.

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