The title on the program for Hayward Education Association President Kathy Crummey’s memorial service celebrated “A Life Well Led.” What an understatement.
Kathy picked up a picket sign as a strike leader in her first year of teaching back in 1974, and remained an integral part of HEA for her entire career. Alongside her husband, Dayton Crummey, the pair served as the core of a vibrant local, and as a strong voice for CTA in Northern California.
During the celebration, I couldn’t help but reflect on the dozens of ways that leaders in the teachers’ unions across the state and country serve the community. People like Kathy all over the state are community treasures because of their commitment to quality public education, and their persistence in assuring that our schools and students get every resource available. And while Kathy was a very visible leader, the truth is that most of what a Union leader does in not out in the open.
Of course, we hear the voices of our Union leaders most clearly when they are at school board meetings reminding elected officials to make a commitment to the classroom. We see the local Union president at rallies, and if someone from the media needs an interview.
But we don’t often see the hard work of Unionizing. Unions are the most democratic organizations in the country, and being truly democratic requires an enormous amount of communication. You’ll see the Union leader at countless meetings with multiple groups of people about the same issue. She’ll also write memos about tedious, yet important details, and create newsletters to explain the deliberations. He always has to keep in mind that anyone with an issue feels like they are being heard and involved.
Union leaders are hand-holders, sitting with teachers at their times of greatest vulnerability. Mediators during meetings with angry parents or unreasonable principals. Arbitrators during sit-downs between colleagues who are less than collegial. Clarifyers when the terms of employment suddenly change.
Because it’s often politically popular to attack Unions, the Union leader has to stand up and be the voice of reason when most others are being unreasonable. A Union leader always knows that someone is indeed looking over her shoulder, so every “I” must be dotted and every “t” must be crossed. The income and the outgo better match up, also.
We in CTA and other teachers unions have a special responsibility to defend our nation’s greatest treasure, quality public education which reaches all of our children, especially the most vulnerable. With the passing of Kathy Crummey, we have lost a giant.