Union Goon

Published on: 3/29/2011

Seems to me I hear the terms goon and thug used frequently to describe anyone that belongs to a union these days.  I had a retired school teacher visit me at the day job recently and she was hardly thug-like.  Furthermore, everyone knows that goons are not accomplished pianists.

The truth of the matter is that most people that belong to a union - just like most people that self-identify with the Tea Party - are decent people that are sincere in their beliefs and ideologies and work hard at whatever it is they do in life.  The goons, the thugs and the lunatics are outliers.  And you’ll find them in the fringes of the left and the right. 

A few of my readers already know this but most of you do not.

Almost three and a half decades ago I was a teacher. 

Yep.  I completed my student teaching in a fourth grade class at Webster School in Wauwatosa.  That school’s been long gone. 

The second semester of my senior year in college was spent in a paid internship teaching grades two and three at Underwood School in Tosa.  I didn’t have a contract so I wasn’t union.  But other than that I blended right-in.

Following that stint I moved-on to work for another school district.  I taught fifth grade.  Then sixth grade.  My last year of teaching was eighth grade language arts and literature.

Three years and out.  More about that in a bit.

Those were good years.  I made plenty of friends and can still recall some of my most pleasant and challenging students.  As faculty adviser to the school newspaper I defied my apprentices to write in-depth and provocative articles.  And appreciative parents gave me wine at Christmas.

One of my fast friends taught across the hall from me.  Back in the day we could get away with some shenanigans that might be frowned-upon in today’s public education environment.  Like the time he and his co-conspirators gained access to my classroom over the weekend and removed the furniture.   They hid everything in various janitor closets and storerooms throughout the building.

Entering my homeroom on Monday morning I was greeted by an empty space - save for my solitary desk - with attendance book and lesson plans neatly in place.  My first-hour eighth graders rose to the occasion and swiftly completed a scavenger hunt to round-up the missing furniture.

That buddy went on to become a high school principal and later a district administrator in another state. 

Me?  I still enjoy a good prank.

The first time he and I were introduced was at a union membership meeting of some sort.  He convinced me to get involved and before too long I found myself attending leadership conferences, participating in contract negotiations and handling grievances.  I have a recollection of long nights spent with the bargaining committee of our school board followed by breakfast at Webb’s.

Previously independent - I became a supporter of Democrat Party candidates.

Throughout all I finished work on my Masters Degree and immediately following my graduation was notified of my layoff.

Having the least amount of seniority I lost my job.

There I was - bright and ambitious - with a newly-minted graduate degree in education under my belt.  My personnel file was filled with glowing evaluations.  I was loved by students, parents and peers alike.  But that union seniority thing got in the way so I was cast adrift.

In a word I was pissed. 

My cohorts were dedicated and hard working individuals.  Yet we all knew of the few who were biding their time - getting by with the least amount of effort until they could retire.  You see they were at the top of the food chain and short of committing some sort of heinous act could neither be compelled to leave nor forced-out.  Because I handled grievances my personal predicament left me conflicted.

So I spent my first and only period of unemployment with my newborn daughter and by summer’s end was offered a job in the private sector.  I never looked back.

My politics evolved and I grew to support Republican Party candidates.

Time passed.

Things have turned-out OK for me - both financially and otherwise in life.  And as long as I have most of my marbles I think the managing partner wants to keep me around. 

Sometimes I fantasize about going back to teaching.  Lecturing part-time in a technical college or maybe a university that credentials individuals in my line of work has some appeal.  In a pinch I could probably handle a squirrelly class of second graders as a substitute teacher.  (If the pay was commensurate.)   On the other hand I could scale-back my schedule and maybe take-up hunting and fishing.  

It’s nice to have options.

In the last number of weeks I’ve wondered how I would be coping if by circumstance of fate I was still a teacher. 

Would I have retained my youthful ambition?  Or would I be jaded?  Perhaps getting by and putting in my time?  Or would I have followed the career path and attained the pay grade of my buddy the prankster?

I guess I’ll never know.

Just look at that cherubic face of mine.  Is that the countenance of a goon or a thug?  I was both a teacher and a union guy for a period of time.  Between you and me I think the currency of that rhetoric has become so greatly devalued that it has lost its usefulness amongst thinking individuals.

It is different for me nowadays.  As a matter of personal policy I don’t claim any party membership.  I maintain a healthy mistrust of orthodox ideologues.  I freely pay my substantial dues to belong to a professional association and have proudly served as an officer, board director and on a national committee.  I voluntarily give generously to my PAC.  I am not a goon.

Pardon my long-windedness and indulging me the sharing of my experience.  I've been wanting to get this off my chest for some weeks.