Boyceville educator Debra Bell answers the question: Why be a WEAC member?

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Boyceville Education Association President Debra Bell recently shared this important letter with Boyceville educators, but the message is the same for teachers and Education Support Professionals in communities throughout the state.

By Debra Bell
Boyceville Education Association

Many teachers and others in education are not happy with the direction of public education in Wisconsin. We cannot hope that others outside public education will be working to make the right changes to improve our working conditions and wages. We must take an active role ourselves and be part of the solution.

The Boyceville Education Association (BEA) along with its affiliate unions (WEAC Region 1, WEAC, and the NEA) continue to fight hard for public education and our rights as educators at all levels. This is our mission and you have to agree with that mission to see value in being a union member.

Teachers will ask me often what they are getting for their dues. That is a complicated question. I could go on and on with the many things your money/dues goes to fund, but in the time that I have to describe the use of member dues I will just go back to define your dues as you contributing to the many causes that you probably support, but do not have the personal time to take a role in. Some of these professional issues are teacher salary raises, sick and family leave days, and insurance and retirement benefits and are closely linked to your values as an individual in the district.

Trying to trace the value of your union dues is like trying to ask yourself why you give money to your church or place of worship. In both cases, you are supporting the group’s values and mission because you believe they are important.

At my church I understand that my dues goes to keep the church building running, keep the word of God spreading to members and the community, help others in the church community, and allow the church members to be involved in outreach ministries. The reasons go on and on.

In a teacher’s union, one must understand that programs and initiatives are being developed, organized and implemented to strengthen and improve public education at the national, state, regional and local levels.

The National Education Association (NEA) is the national level where political and nonpolitical programs and lobbying influence national educational laws, national testing and federal school funding.

WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council) is the state level where your dues go to influence state educational policy that affects us at the local level such as state testing, laws and state school funding. WEAC also provides many services, including professional development training and resources.

WEAC Region 1 is the regional organization that allows our locals to have legal expertise, organizational help in elections for things like school board races, and employee representation for cases of job performance or accusations of wrongdoing by students.

The BEA is the local level where we teachers in Boyceville work with administration and the school board to solve district issues such as retirement benefits, salary and compensation issues, and to solve many types of problems facing the district. The BEA is advocating for our job quality as employees and the educational rights of the students in our town of Boyceville.

As a non-member not paying union dues, you will not be represented by the union stewards in any legal or school matters. You will not have $1 million NEA liability insurance or other member benefits. You will not receive many of the updates on education and initiatives that are being worked on within the district and in the state and nation. You will not be a part of the NEA, WEAC, WEAC Region 1, or the BEA and any movement that these organizations make will not be funded in part by your dues. You will not be financially supporting these teacher grassroots movements to help better public education.

If teachers are not part of creating a better educational future, then who will be those influencing education? Do you believe that teachers should be fighting to better education at all levels and believe strongly enough to put your money where your mouth is?

Every member that the BEA loses, weakens the union and its ability to effect change. I am finishing some calculations on lifetime earnings by teachers before and after ACT 10. Lifetime earnings for teachers in my era and in yours over a 33-year teaching career are about 33% less in today’s PPS than when the union had greater collective bargaining rights and we were acting as one. I have 2 to 5 years left in education, but you and your colleagues may have many more. With a less effective and less active teachers’ union, I see teacher pay and benefits slipping even farther back. I believe that for teachers it is a just fight and worth my dollars.

Being part of the BEA and its affiliates gives you a voice in the push-back against diminishing wages and benefits and initiatives such as vouchers and over-testing that affect the quality of teachers that stay in teaching and the process students continue to learn within. We would love to have you join or continue to be part of the BEA.

You are not alone in this decision of whether to pay union dues for the hope of better worker rights and the betterment of education for the children. Again, it comes down to the idea that you have to believe in the BEA’s mission.

I do hope that these thoughts help answers some of the questions you might have regarding the value of union membership. I hope that you will continue to help all of us in education, and I believe help yourself by becoming a member of the BEA.

We look forward to our increased involvement by members in the BEA throughout the district as we work to improve education in Boyceville and beyond into the coming year. Let me know if I can answer any of your questions or concerns. Thank you for all that you do for public education in Boyceville.

In Solidarity,
Debra Bell
BEA President
Soon to be Region 1 President (October 2016)