By John Louis Meeks, Jr.
Why do I belong to my local teacher’s union, Duval Teachers United and why do I invite educators and education staff professionals to join me in the Union Movement? I can explain with three simple concepts that can explain why we benefit from solidarity.
Community: I remember when the school bell rang on my first day of school at Mayport Middle School in Atlantic Beach. No matter how prepared we are as educators, we remember that feeling we felt when we prepared and organized our classroom, when we wrote our first lesson plans, and when we first opened our classroom door to young minds ready to be inspired. I knew, however, that when I joined Duval Teachers United, my local teacher’s union, that I would never walk alone. I had the community of seasoned educators who would mentor and guide me through my most challenging times as a novice teacher. I have benefited so much from professional development through my union, I became a nationally certified trainer with the American Federation of Teachers. The guidance, mentoring, and advice that I have received from my union is priceless.
Commitment: As a dues paying member of Duval Teachers United since 2002, I see myself not as someone who is simply deducting a payment from his paycheck. I see myself has part of a mutual commitment to my profession. I will always belong to DTU because DTU belongs to me. Yes, I could save a few dollars if I bought into the ‘Right to Work’ mantra that I could get a free ride, but I know that I have skin in the game with the only organization in my school district that has the kind membership density envied around Florida and around the nation. I know that our commitment to DTU in turn gives our union the clout and influence to shape education policy. I simply cannot afford to walk way.
Connection: As the grandson of union activists, I have an appreciation for my connection with the labor movement. This movement includes all educators and education staff professionals who wish to be treated with respect and dignity. This movement is larger than individuals who toil away in their classrooms, putting in countless ‘off the clock’ hours for their students. As union members, we have a spiritual connection to those who came before us and fought for respect and dignity from administration. While we stand on the shoulders of giants who fought for collective bargaining, better working conditions, and decent wages, we have the potential to be the next generation of union brothers and sisters who protect and even expand our rights and protections. This is an all hands on deck effort that includes our national organizations (NEA, AFT), our state affiliate (FEA), our local (DTU), and all of us. I refuse to be divided and conquered. From our connection, our solidarity abides and thrives.
At the end of the day, we can either unite and share the successes and triumphs of our union or we can retreat to the comfort of our cloistered lives and passively watch as collective bargaining devolves into collective begging. If you don’t believe me, ask the veteran educators and education staff professionals who fought their battles from the catacombs while their administration and elected officials engaged in adversarial tactics to squelch our voice. And, if not our union, who will rise to these challenges we face that seem to only intensify with every passing day and every new crisis.
Do I need you? Yes! Do we need you? Yes! And when we invite you to join our movement, what can you say but yes!