With a new school year approaching, corporate interests looking to undermine teachers’ rights are — like clockwork — calling on Connecticut’s educators to abandon their unions claiming that “alternative” unions provide similar benefits.
Let’s set the record straight.
The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) comprises tens of thousands of hardworking, highly qualified elementary and secondary public school teachers, counselors, social workers, and psychologists from every corner of the state. All officers and board of directors are active public school teachers elected by their fellow teachers.
They know firsthand what it’s like to be in a classroom and fully understand the challenges facing students and educators. They advocate for teaching and learning conditions that consistently place Connecticut in the top states for public education.
In the category of preK-12 educational excellence, our small state currently ranks second in the nation. This is no accident.
Fly-by-night and imposter groups — typically created by political foes of public education and unions — have no idea what it takes to teach effectively or to represent teachers. They often have few or no active teachers on their boards.
They usually have no staff or presence in Connecticut, no grievance representation for teachers, no support in the certification or evaluation process, no retirement planning assistance, no diversity, and — significantly — no advocacy for competitive wages and benefits or legislative accomplishments on behalf of educators and students.
What they have is an agenda. Their goals are to weaken and eliminate teachers’ unions in order to privatize schools and maximize profits for their corporate backers. To see what that looks like, look no further than states where teachers’ unions have been eroded or eliminated. There, teachers often work three jobs to make ends meet. They manage class sizes of 40, 50, or 60 students with no guaranteed breaks. They are burning out and leaving a profession they entered with passion and optimism.
In Connecticut, educator advocacy and union solidarity have ensured that teachers can work and retire with dignity. They have established safe, well-resourced classrooms and secured key legislative victories including greater mental health supports for our students, 30-minute lunch periods for educators (who have often been denied adequate break periods), and a ban on damaging practices such as dual teaching, which research shows shortchanges students and leads to what one study described as “chaos.”
CEA’s ability to win resources for teachers and students has attracted the attention of corporate and special interests that see unions as a threat to their profit margins and their influence. Anti-union organizations such as the corporate-backed “Freedom Foundation” are ramping up efforts to erode educators’ autonomy, salary and benefits, and professional voice.
Anti-union groups are urging educators to join imposter groups that offer none of the protection or benefits of a legitimate union. They are inviting teachers to virtual “information sessions” deceptively marketed as live webinars to help teachers “understand their options.” Participants are urged to enter their email addresses and phone numbers in the chat so that hosts can “circle back” with answers. This ploy is designed to collect teachers’ private and personal information. The ultimate goal is to trick members into giving up their protections and rights and weaken the strong, collective voice that teachers in Connecticut have through their union.
While these strategies may have worked in a handful of states, they have fallen flat in Connecticut.
Teachers meet rigorous standards for certification, maintain a high level of autonomy, enjoy strong benefits and compensation, and remain trusted professionals in their field. Connecticut’s education system, however, is only as strong as its teachers, and teachers know their strength is greatest when standing up and advocating together —through their union.
Kate Dias is President of the Connecticut Education Association.