Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Former Teachers Union Activist: “We were wrong”

Education reporter Joe Williams recently led the assembling of “From Contracts to Classrooms: Covering Teachers Unions,” a primer for education journalists published by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media. The primer includes several firsthand testimonials from journalists around the country on the importance of covering teachers unions well.

One of the most striking testimonials comes from Dale Mezzacappa, who covered education for The Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years. Here’s an excerpt that should encourage you to read the whole thing:

[T]eacher collective bargaining, which was to address injustices, instead added to them …Recently, I had lunch with a retired Philadelphia teacher who spent 30 years in the system. In her younger years, she had participated in more than a dozen strikes and lockouts, often risking jail.

Now, she trains young art teachers and tries to get them jobs in city schools. She laments how the contract prevents her from choosing the best mentors for her student teachers. She’s upset that burned-out, ineffective teachers are holding positions that her students would thrive in, and nothing can be done. She finds herself placing them more and more often in charter schools.

But what about all those days walking picket lines? What about all those bruising battles over protecting teachers’ rights?

The swiftness of her answer surprised even me. “We were wrong,” she said.

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