In a debacle that has garnered local media attention, we see again that the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) as a whole has forgotten that the point of a union is to unite. In this era of non-union sentiment, in-fighting is the worst thing we can do to ourselves. The Right-to-Work movement is gaining more legitimacy with many states destroying public employee unions and the rights and privileges (like a five day work week) that our forebears fought and died for. We need to get more teachers involved.
The blame is on the Board of Directors (BOD), on the candidates, and on us.
The Board has alienated itself from its beneficiaries. As an elected representative unit, the BOD’s top priority should be to disseminate information as quickly, effectively and transparently as possible. Withholding meeting minutes that affect all membership, such as the record of how the results of an entire election were thrown out, essentially sends the message that the board believes its union members cannot handle themselves as professional adults. It shows that the BOD’s opinion of us is nothing better than the Education Reformers who feel we are incompetent at our jobs and need close monitoring. This point of view exemplified wonderfully by former Executive Director Joan Husted on HPR’s The Conversation when she referred to some teachers as “paranoid.”
Our candidates for leadership have also aided in union dissection. Any election becomes divisive, but I, as a campaign veteran, have never seen personal animosity between candidates and supporters on this level. Supporters on both sides have used social media to go after opposition in public, airing dirty laundry all over the internet. Both sides have committed campaign violations, as well as sitting and voting on the Board that certifies the election. What makes this worse is that both candidates share the same goal: make life better for teachers. Their disagreement stems from their choice of vehicle to achieve that goal: one candidate wants to play the system, the other wants to fight it. Worst of all, neither slate of candidates totally trusts the other to run the union, allowing the rumors to persist that the choice to not certify the election was based on the vote count. It feels like many have forgotten that, after the election is decided, we have to come back the next day and work together as a united front.
But we, the membership, deserve the bulk of the blame. Of course it is the union’s responsibility to motivate membership, and we can easily blame sloppy politics or teacher non-involvement. But we cannot absolve ourselves of our disinterest in events outside our own classrooms; the kind of disinterest that allows this kind of negligent leadership to exist in the first place.
In the now non-certified election, there were approximately 3,400 votes out of a membership of over 13,000. As the professionals that we are, we need to do more to flex our control over the guardians of our careers. As difficult as that is with all our professional responsibilities, we need to get involved at the school level. Without our direct involvement, our union, our protection, will crumble from the inside and be unable to fend off attack by our naysayers who claim we are under-worked, overpaid, and unqualified. We need to stand united, or we will find ourselves forever oppressed.
So I urge my fellow teachers, my fellow union members, to vote in the new election. Show leadership and you shall receive leadership. After all, we are the union.