An Open Letter To All Teachers Opting Out Of Your Union.

An Open Letter to All Teachers Who Have Opted out of Your Union.

I know you have opted out of the Union, and since if I knew you personally, I would most likely respect you as an educator, I wanted to share my take on this situation. I don’t know what your reasons for your actions are, and don’t expect that you need to share them with me.  But I know that many of you,

  1. feel you just can’t afford the dues.  Perhaps you feel  

  2. the Union doesn’t do anything for you anyway.  Maybe you feel

  3. Unions have outgrown their usefulness.

Suffice it to say this long standing, well-funded and very carefully orchestrated attack on organized labor is not something I didn’t see coming.  I have been watching it evolve since President Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO) in 1981. When organized labor allowed that to happen, the writing was on the wall. And the attack has been predicated on you feeling one or all of the above to be true.

My take is as follows:

We need the Union now more than ever.

This isn’t about me and not about most of you.  It is about the new teachers in your buildings; it’s about the future. It’s about all of those gifted and talented students you teach who dream of becoming a teacher one day. It’s about their expectation that they will be able to raise a family and own their own home.  It’s about what I and most retired teachers enjoy. That is not what those new teachers in your building have to look forward to now, in the later stages of their careers, and after they retire.

Unions protect workers—Your working conditions are your students learning conditions.

It is about those future teachers who may not agree with how things are being run and the protection they will lose.   I and many like me were the kind of teacher not prone to shrinking from a fight to do what was right for our students, even though it may be in direct violation of misguided board of education policy or arbitrary and capricious legislative fiat. That freedom of speech in the workplace was afforded you by the protection we gained being able to collectively bargain a safe and orderly environment for those students.  Our rights in our work environment were NEVER given to us; rather they were won by organized hard work as a member of a Union.

Teaching was, and is again becoming, a “Second Income Profession.” 

I was raised in a time when the teaching profession was not one that afforded educators the security to raise a family and own their own home.  My aunt was a third grade teacher and her salary was what paid for the two week vacation to Lake Charlevoix each year…that’s it! Luckily she was married to a Unionized Postal Employee.

After WWII and with the advent of the GI Bill of Rights, many young men returning from military service took advantage of the GI Bill to attend college.  Several of my high school teachers and counselors were from that group.  Prior to the Unionization of the teaching profession, special mortgage programs had to be set up for those teachers, so they could afford to buy a home.  Conversely, my father worked in an auto factory, and was able to enter the housing market, raise six kids and go on vacation every summer. The difference between teachers and factory workers was that auto workers literally put their lives on the line to obtain a living wage and some basic benefits. Teachers had to make a decision to fight for what they knew they deserved in order to bring the teaching profession into the middle class .  And every one of us is in their debt for those sacrifices.

The pendulum is quickly swinging back to a time when teachers are now qualifying for food stamps.  This will drive the best and the brightest from even considering entering the field in the first place. It is driving the best and brightest in your buildings to create a “Plan B” for their future which does not include being and educator. You may be one of them.

Think about the future of YOUR profession

I don’t expect this message to change the decision you have made.  But I sincerely hope it will cause you to deeply think about the future of your profession. Working people have NEVER realized improvement to their station in life through the kindness of their employer. And in the near future, when there are no restraints on the power of school boards and school administrations, they will continue to act from their natural predilection or because of bullying by their misguided legislature, to strip you of evermore of your hard-won rights.

The end of Unions is the end of Public Education—Period.  

I may be wrong about you, but I don’t think this is a scenario you envision as being good for the future of your students, your profession, your state or your country.

In Solidarity,

Fran Cullen – Retired Teacher – Traverse City Area Public Schools


42 thoughts on “An Open Letter To All Teachers Opting Out Of Your Union.

  1. Cathy

    “The difference between teachers and factory workers was that auto workers literally put their lives on the line to obtain a living wage and some basic benefits. Teachers had to make a decision to fight for what they knew they deserved in order to bring the teaching profession into the middle class . And every one of us is in their debt for those sacrifices.”

    One of the best statements I have heard lately! I have expressed this sentiment over and over in the last few years as I have watched “us” (some of us have tried to fight it) give away so much of what those people DID end up risking their lives and jobs for. I will scream if I hear one more time, “We can’t strike here, it is illegal.” Do they seriously think it was LEGAL way back when when people risked everything to get us what we had for those few years? When they lost jobs AND landed in jail?

  2. Maxine Luke

    I’m retired out of MI Public Schools, still a union member and was one of the support staff in the GISD in Flint. I stand behind the union’s, our teachers and hate the right to work law that our governor pushed through. I was with the custodial staff and look up to all teachers and what they do. I can’t believe what the republican’s are doing to education. I am In Solidarity with all.

  3. Harry Mapps

    My feelings on my local is twofold. First, I pay $120.00 a month in union dues, and I often feel I do not get my monies worth in return. Many issues in our district could be resolved if our union was stronger and more “unified.”
    Secondly, being a union member gives me and my colleagues job security. However, that security has been threatened in recent years by politicians who, for some, do not have a clue as to what teachers deal with day in and day out. Public education is getting a bad image because everything comes down to the TEST!
    The true measure is what goes on in and out of the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers, students, administrators, and yes parents play a pivotal role in the success and failure of any education system. If there is a breakdown in any part of that chain, then the whole system is weakened.
    Rather than place blame, let’s all work together and share the responsibility of quality education so everyone succeeds. As the old saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

  4. Pingback: An Open Letter To All Teachers Opting Out Of Your Union. | NO PEEK STEW Blog

    1. Fran Cullen Post author

      Well said Ms. McDaniel-Smith.

      Being a student of history, I can’t help but think we as a nation have veered sharply away from the idea of a Social Contract. There is only a false logic in the scenarios you describe above, as you so eloquently explain. We either stand together as a people, or is it every person for themselves? Or the third option it seems is to move into polarized camps.

      To not understand the nature of a great peoples’ ability to thrive by following the Golden Rule and subscribing to our Core Democratic Values, our nation is in danger of sliding back to a time in our history I frankly don’t want to revisit. And so we must sharpen our own logic and fight to nurture the flame of the promise of the American Dream which is being extinguished by narrow focused egotists. The false logic of their arguments is beginning to be exposed. Let’s continue to shine a bright light on the treachery of the charlatans and demagogues and fight to regain the power of an altruistic people.

  5. Dawn Anne McDaniel-Smith

    I have tried so many times to explain to a variety of friends and family why we, as a nation, need, no depend, on our system of. Public education. Many people want their children in private, parochial or charter schools and believe that their tax money shouldn’t go into a public school system they don’t use. They believe that their children should be able to use a voucher at any school they choose. If we were to go that way then childless couples shouldn’t have. To pay school taxes. Once a couples children complete their public high school diploma they should be able to stop paying taxes, single and not planning to get married or have children? Then why should I pay taxes? So all these people are given the right to choose whether to support government public education.
    Then we could use this same philosophy about public parks, city family events, state run zoos, campgrounds, and any other publicly run institution. I don’t ride city buses, so why should I pay for them! I. Don’t have any pets. Why should I help support facilities to take care of lost or deserted animals?
    I think you should be able to see where I am going with this chain of logic. We, as a free people, have chosen to live in this country and enjoy all that it has to offer. But what if this actually happened? We wouldn’t have any of these services. But what if you have a child that needs special education? Oh, we are sorry but private, parochial and charter schools can’t afford to meet your child’s needs. Imagine a country with no buses, museums, state and national parks, etc. Would we be happy with that solution? I would have to say no. What made us a great nation, with a strong middle class, is that we understand the importance of supporting public institutions and support those that work in these institutions. I fear that in my lifetime public schools will all die out. What a tragedy. What will we lose next?

  6. Deborah Sheinman

    I couldn’t agree more. At this point in the history of our country, we have an unparalleled assault on public schools and public school teachers. The United States is the only country in the world that treats its teachers with such derision and effrontery. Both political parties, the media, school administrators and parents are guilty of this disrespect, scorn, and derision. In the political arena we have the new “Ninety Day Wonders” of education (Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston) implementing malicious and ridiculous laws, regulations, and policies. How many trillions of dollars must we waste on invalid, meaningless, useless tests and now common core standards? Do there politicians understand that common core standards and these high-stakes tests go against everything we know about child development, learning, and even language acquisition? We’ve already siphoned off billions of dollars to the charter school industry which does not wish to be held accountable for the badly needed funds taken away from public schools. Do we really want Michael Milliken in charge of a network of charter schools? Now we have Arne Duncan wanting to overhaul teacher education and training programs in universities, when he clearly has no understanding of teaching and education. Arne Duncan knows as much about teaching as I do about professional basketball. On the Republican side of the spectrum, we have the special interest group ALEC which wants to do away with public schools altogether and create an unworkable voucher system. At least the Republicans are more honest about their dislike and total disrespect of public school teachers. As a result of this malicious mismanagement, teachers’ working conditions are abysmal and teachers’ wages have fallen flat. Teachers’ only defense is the union. If individual teachers do not join the union then they willingly abrogate their rights and any hope of ever changing this sad state of affairs.

  7. Joseph Felice

    Taught for twenty years now. Watched as the unions allowed tenure to be voted away. (NC) Watched as Master’s pay was erased. Watched as we haven’t had a raise in eight years. Haven’t heard a word from this awesome union. When, I taught in KY, I watched as Art, Music, PE, Gifted, Librarians, Counselors and more were stripped away from schools justified by their non-essential role in testing. When I raised concerns, nothing happened. When I spoke up in faculty meetings, I was told by my principal that I needed to speak less if I wanted my job. Lol. Thanks union…

    1. Sky Hendricks

      The union is not a thing, it’s a group of people, teachers, ALL members, working together for a stronger more supported profession. You, my brother, are the union. I am the union. Now more than ever we all need to do our part as members. Before its destruction, we must let our voices be heard together. I think we are all stuck in the excuse of, “at least I have a job.” I’m guilty of saying it. But how much longer will we be able to say that? I’ve been disappointed in my own union too. They are people of power and voice just like politicians. We elect them to speak for us and do what’s right for our profession. Go to your union meetings. Bring a group of members. Tell them what you want. We can’t expect magic from our union leaders. They are just a small group supporting a massive district of members. We the members (professionals of education) must support the leaders with more then just our dues. They need man power. They need members in the eyes of the BOEs, on the steps of our neighbors endorsing polititions that support education and on the steps of the capital buildings. I say this now to my union brothers and sisters, my fellow teaching colleagues and ALL supporters of public education, and mostly to MYSELF, stop just paying dues and expecting magic to happen. Get informed, get educated on what’s happening, spread that information to family, friends, church members, everyone you know and most importantly, get organized. Law makers are intimidated by numbers(people, smart people)!!! Do it for yourself, your family, teammates, colleagues, STUDENTS. Do it because its what’s right! Our children need us now more than ever! All American children! Lets work together to secure a future we and our children’s children can rely on and be proud of!

    2. Min

      Sounds like you had a union in which there was low membership or little involvement by the members. A union is only as strong as its component parts. Unions aren’t strong, based on whether or not they’re good unions. Unions are strong, based on whether or not they have good members.

    3. camb888

      I bet your union, if you are fortunate enough to have one, was fighting on your behalf against the negative changes that happened. Unions can’t and don’t win them all, especially when up against red-state legislatures and/or in right to work states. It’s not a matter of just paying your dues and assuming that “the union” will be able to make everything turn out the way you want it to.
      The union is you. Instead of “watching”, these days it’s more important than ever that everyone get involved and take action, including local actions.

    4. Paul W Hassler, Retired Montgomery County Public Schools, MD

      Loss of Tenure legislation in NC was vetoed by the present governor and I believe upheld by the courts recently.

    5. Cindi W

      did not allow tenure to slip away. You and your ilk did not fight hard enough to keep the union. How do you think the auto workers and the coal miners got to keep their benefits? They stood shoulder to shoulder and fought the bosses. Did you personally do that or did you just leave it up to another union member?

  8. tammie

    Occasionally the union has done a few things for us, but for what I pay each month, I really get nothing. We get 5 new things to deal with or add to our program every year with nothing taken out. Where is the union there. Yes the young ones are the ones who should be joining but they are the exact ones that don’t join because they see what is not being done and what a waste of money it is. Until the unions unite for a strike (which will NEVER happen in Utah) things will stay status quo-and for that reason I am giving myself a raise after 25 years.

    1. Brian Ferguson

      The first statewide teacher strike in the nation WAS in Utah and the second statewide strike in Utah helped the current NEA president, Lily Eskelson-Garcia become the president of UEA. The Union isn’t a service you buy. A Union is a pooling of shared time, service, and, yes, money. Ask not what your Union has done for you, ask what you can do to help the Union defend our profession before it is too late. Our enemies are organized (and well-funded). We must be too!

    2. Laura Collins

      Waste of money to protect your salaries and benefits? I don’t think so. If your conservative state Congress makes striking illegal, please do not blame the union leaders for not calling a strike. They can’t! Blame the administration for having NO backbone for not standing up to the politicians and school board members who believe every new way to ‘reinvent and/or improve education’ is money well spent!

  9. Paul W Hassler, Retired Montgomery County Public Schools, MD

    My major concern is the amount of time and money that’s spent on political campaigns that purportedly support Public Education. Those campaigns and dollars spent many times support the candidates who soon forget who got them in office.

    It is my wishes that the scope of the unions goes back to doing what they should be doing, educating and improving their lot.

  10. B. Flosrnzier

    I’m sorry. I was a union member until I noticed that union leaders were more interested in their pocketbooks and their liberal agenda than my students. The dues weren’t a problem except most of the monies went to ISTA and NEA. My local union people worked so hard for us teachers and our school. I would loved to have supported them but I was not allowed. I HAD to join all three. I do not see that the NEA has done anything for the local schools except put more restrictions on teachers and load them down with liberal ideas. Let teachers teach to the needs of their students. The local people know what is best for them. Get rid of NEA and their power hungry leaders.

    1. Laura Collins

      At the national level is where the main fight to preserve public education takes place. Why not stop electing power hungry and greedy politicians instead? Why do capitalistic billionaire get to influence legislators and slip them large donations, provide them with ‘seminars’ where they are wined and dined while told how to write bills that favor big business and no one screams bloody murder on our tax system? If you want to know where all the tax dollars go, read Fortune 500.
      In the mean time, I’ll pay my NEA dues to rat out the scoundrels and hold their feet to the fire of preserving quality PUBLIC and ‘free'(paid for by our tax dollars)EDUCATION for our citizens, as instituted by our founding fathers. They knew an educated citizenry was a strong one. Unfortunately, those with the $$ to buy Congress are setting up a financial system that makes them money off the sweat and toil of hard-working Americans and it is becoming more imbalanced by the month. Unions were established to protect worker rights. Teachers are workers. We do NOT get bonues, merit raises, or career advancements in public education. We pay for our training to advance ourselves and are paid very little for our investment of time and $$ — so stop and think about what you are actually saying. Take off your rose-colored glasses, why don’t you?

  11. Bob West

    Reese was one of the early strikes where they tried to fire the teachers and Michigan really dug down into the fight. I remember being invited to meet with all the Michigan Education Association staff to discuss coordinated bargaining in the late 70’s. I was from WI where we had done some unique things. At that meeting we built the structure for strong bargaining and Michigan raced ahead of most of the country. Now some tough political times have set both Michigan and WI back but it can be undone. This time we need the same strong unions focused on politics to get good lawmakers at all levels. Teachers are members of communities in every place in the State and are respected. A strong coordinated united approach can save our schools once again.

  12. Bill Bittinger

    Unions are fine in the private sector, as an idea. They’re a perfectly natural byproduct of a free market and a free society, and have historically brought tremendous good to the American workplace.

    But without getting into the matters of coercion and corruption among private sector unions, the simple fact is that not everyone working in the public sector believes that those serving the public have the right to hold the taxpayer for ransom. I don’t know of many conservatives who are categorically anti-union; indeed, I’d wager that Americans of any ideology who categorically oppose all unions are rare. What many are is opposed to PUBLIC SECTOR unions. Why is this crucial point incessantly, frankly disingenuously ignored?

    When teachers or other government workers strike, the taxpayers are the ones on the hook. I realize you get this, but opposition quite specifically to THIS notion is the guiding principle of many teachers who opt out of their local unions. A point not included in your list, nor addressed in your patronizing rebuttal.

    I made a commitment to my fellow citizens to show up, day in and day out, and teach their children. I sink or swim solely on my worth in that capacity, in the view of those same citizens. If I want to have collective bargaining as a recourse, should I feel unfairly treated, I will seek a job in the private sector.

    That’s it.

    1. CitizensArrest

      If you really think that the only thing you need to do to have job security as a teacher or other public sector worker these days is to be good at your job then I have some swampland off the coast of Florida to sell you cheap. PS. Public sector union members are also taxpayers, and Its a lie about holding people for ransom in either public or private unions, it’s not a ransom in either case.

  13. pervin1

    The real lesson with PATCO was that they supported Pres.Reagan…and then what happened to them. From Mars Attack “Stop trust me I am your friend” lol


    So… the end of unions will lead to the end of forced public education? Sounds like a win to me. It would certainly solve the problem of the “arbitrary and capricious legislative fiat.”

  15. Brian

    Perhaps the unions need to offer some choices. I like the idea of a strong local union but i don’t appreciate where all the money goes at the state and federal levels. Sometimes my union money supports politics that i completely disagree with. Why can’t the union be focused on ONLY education?

    1. James Kuehn

      Totally agree. Unions were created to bargain for wages, hours, and conditions of employment. As a teacher and member of the union I saw the Union at the State and National level endorse abortion, same sex “marriage”, and other social issues that many of us opposed and that had nothing to do with the purpose for which the Union was created. Added to that was the exclusive support of the Democratic Party and it’s candidates. Some of the dues collected went for political action only to candidates of the Democratic Party. It is my contention that if one wants to promote causes like a woman’s right to abortion, etc they should do so from their own private funds and the Union should stay out of such matters.

  16. Pat Smith

    I was a teacher for 40 years! I was a PROUD member of my local union, and the MEA (Michigan Education Association) and the NEA !!! I taught in one of the first school systems to go on strike in MI !!!
    It was NOT pleasant or fun! But Michigan is and was a strong union state and we had a
    LOT of union support being a Suburb of Pontiac and Detroit !! We marched in front of our schools carrying picket signs and were well supported by our community who understood that some things are worth fighting for! Money was only a part of the problem!! Fair pay and working conditions were on the line and DEFINITELY
    WORTH THE SACRIFICES we had to make!!
    We did that back in 1969 so you who are teaching NOW could have the pay and benefits you have NOW!!! I think it was well worth it !!!! Are you getting the pay and benefits you deserve??? !!!! PROBABLY NOT!!!! But then it’s up to YOU to support your teacher’s association and be willing to standup and fight for what you KNOW you deserve !!!!

  17. Sandy

    If the Unions would have been doing their jobs (I was a member for years). The teachers wages and conditions would NOT have gotten this bad… I no longer wish to line the pockets of liars and people who really do not care about my job at all.

  18. jrpalm

    Retired now, but walked picket lines in Detroit as a beginning teacher to provide a reasonable class size, a living wage and basic health care. If you think these are “givens” for the profession, you’re mistaken.

    For starters imagine individually negotiating your salary, benefits (if you’re lucky) and working environment with an administrator at the start of a school year…& each school year since there is no continuing contract . And keep your opinions about what’s best for your students to yourself for fear of regarded as “non-team” since you can be dismissed at any point. How many preps should you have? (If you can handle 3, why not 5 or 6 or 7? Why not combine your Algebra I & II into one class since you agreed to do so last year with your English I & II classes). Sorry we can’t provide you with a preparation period next year: we need someone to monitor the lunchroom. And on. And on.

  19. Nancy

    I retired from teaching in 2003 after 26 years. My dad born in 1918 taught me the importance of the unions from his experiences. I began watching the demise of teacher unions in the 1980s. The public ally perceived problem that was being fed to the citizens from entrepreneurs and elected officials out to only help themselves added more and more duties for classroom teachers. I saw new programs initiated in all subject areas every year because last year’s didn’t produce great test results. I believe the plan was too keep teachers so busy and focused on new ways to improve learning they had no time to get involved in the union.

    Many children 30 and younger have parents who did not belong to unions. They didn’t know the history of how unions benefit workers. In the 1990s I tried to explain to younger teacher how unions could benefit all. Many only thought of themselves. They didn’t have time, the dues took from their household income, they wanted their job and raises were impossible to get without upsetting administration. As teachers retired, few were willing to become involved in the local teachers union.

    I said 20 years ago the demise of the public schools was the goal of politicians and big money lobbies. If the citizens of this country could act with cooperation and compassion for each other and get along together, which was one goal of public education (not mandated to a test), I believe we all would be better off today. Public Schools bring a diverse population together with common ground. That us something needed in the USA.

  20. Rick Hartsoe

    Such a sad reality written here. I saw it coming before I retired in 2006–and it scared me to death!!! I hope there will be a resurgence of unions in Education–before it is too late. (Maybe it is already). Thanks for the Open Letter!! Well stated.

  21. Alex Tannerhill

    There are a lot of assumptions in this letter. I would suggest that unions use a fair business model when the law will not mandate their revenue. Offer a good product, listen to the disasssitified, seek to understand customers who have left. When the union members take it personal for teachers to not purchase their product they are embracing a failing model. When education is under attack union members have to resist the temptation to be emotional.


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