Welcome back school counselors to the 2018-2019 school year! As per usual, most of us are back in full force, picking up right where we left off last year. For many of us, we used our summer to rejuvenate and replenish ourselves so that we could come back fresh and renewed.
Over the summer the Supreme Court ruled in the Janus case and unfortunately did not rule in favor of unions. So what is this Janus case and how does that affect us as school counselors? The Janus case was a case that was set before the Supreme Court to determine if it was legal for unions to require that non-members still pay an agency fee. They determined that employees working in places of employment were not required to pay agency fees if they didn't want to be a part of the union.
I'm on a few Facebook groups for school counselors and I've seen several posts where school counselors are reaching out to others to ask if they really need to be a part of their union. I want to address this because I personally feel it is an important topic and not one to gloss over.
My short answer is YES, you absolutely should still be a part of your union. Here's my longer answer why...
1) Unions help protect employees' rights. Every year you work in your district you are bound by the contract that you sign. Administrators are also supposed to follow your contract, right? Right. But that doesn't always mean that they do. Even the best teachers sometimes come into contract issues. Surely as a non-union member you can file grievance paperwork if there is a contract violation and the union can direct you how to do that, but ultimately, as a non-member they don't have support you through the process. I have found that in many unions, when a grievance is filed, you can call on your union representation whenever you need them and they are there for you. They also will fight for you and your rights.
2) Unions negotiation your contract. Your union is the one who is spending late nights with your board of education members negotiating your contract, piece by piece. This is no small task. Do you have a certain number of summer days in your contract? Do you have anything else in your contract that is specific to school counselors? If you do, you will still want your union negotiating to keep these pieces in your contract or you will want them to negotiate them for you. There are also plenty of provisions that apply to us as counselors too - working hours, salary, stipends, etc. Technically as a non-member your contract is negotiated for you regardless, however, how hard they might fight for something you want in your contract as a non-union member may differ. Also, if a union has to go to arbitration because they cannot come to an agreement, the money for arbitration partially comes out of union funds. If you're not helping to contribute that could mean a disaster for the union and ultimately you as an employee.
3) Unions provide you with an attorney if you may find yourself in a situation where you need one! (ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT REASONS I BELIEVE YOU SHOULD BE A UNION MEMBER). I know, I know. You're thinking "but I do what I'm told. I follow the rules. I don't do anything to get myself in trouble." It doesn't matter. You could be the most amazing counselor in the world. Every parent and student could adore you and the work that you do. You may even get along with all your fellow staff and your administrators think you're fantastic! While, we all hope that to be true, the reality is that you never know when you might have a problem. You may be accused by DCF of failing to report something (something that you would've never thought would be a reportable thing). You may have a student falsely accuse you of something... or a parent. You may have a new administrator who doesn't like you and tries to find things you are doing wrong, etc., etc. The reality is that we just never know when something could happen and we need representation. In our jobs as school counselors, I believe we are even more vulnerable then in some other professions. We need to protect ourselves as much as we can and when we just can't, it's nice to know we have someone in our corner. The CEA attorney's are FANTASTIC. I don't know about you, but I do not have a "rainy day" fund for an attorney and they're expensive. So knowing if I need one for a work related issue is really comforting.
4) State & National organizations are constantly fighting for us and our students at the state and national levels. The state union organizations are at the state capitol often fighting on behalf of teachers, whether it is for education money, school safety, our pensions, class sizes, etc. Many initiatives that come from the state to your local schools could at times be much worse if you didn't have the union fighting. Sometimes the union is able to knock down certain legislation that is not in the best interest of our children or teachers.
5) Unions are only as strong as their members. Unions work because of the number of people that come together to fight for their rights as workers. If the union ends up smaller in numbers, that hurts everyone.
6) Discounts! While this is NOT the reason most of us are members, it certainly is a perk that CEA and NEA have discount programs for teachers. You can find many of these perks on their website.
Lastly, the other piece I hear is "I'm a school counselor and they don't represent me!" or "they have no idea what I do and there are so few of us in the district that they don't care about me." Well, I really hope that it is not true that your fellow colleagues who are in the union don't care about you... that's a whole different topic, but certainly I get how people feel that they may not be represented, especially when it comes to contract negotiations. I know it is frustrating to have to educate people constantly about what we do as school counselors, but because of our ever evolving role it is VERY IMPORTANT THAT WE ARE EDUCATING OTHERS ABOUT OUR ROLE and this is NO EXCEPTION. Let your union leadership know what your job is and how important it is that they remember you during negotiations. Pay attention during negotiation time and see if there is anything that might affect you, or let them know that in our contract there is XYZ that pertain to school counselors and it is important not to touch it... or here is how we would like it to change and why.
The other thing I would say is to get a seat at the union table and then you won't be on the menu :) Join your union leadership either as an officer or a building rep. This makes sure that your voice is heard. I personally joined my union leadership about 6 years ago for this very reason. I work in a small district with only a handful of support staff. I wanted to make sure that our voice is heard. I also spoke to my negotiations team in our last negotiations and pushed for the school counselors in the district to get back our summer days and for all contract language to say "school counselor" instead of "guidance counselor". Guess what? We got both items in our contract!
So YES, I strongly encourage you to stay a member of the union. Remember, the union is only as strong as its members. If people decide to opt out, which is their choice, the union only weakens, which means that everything else weakens...your worker rights, your contract, your salary...
I hope that you have a most successful year everyone!