Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank You, Kathy Crummey

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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How could a public health option be worse than what we have now?

The right wing is right about health care. A government run program could never compete with the insurance companies. The insurance companies can deny coverage, preside over more “death panels,” and chase far more people into bankruptcy than the government could imagine. They already are.

In all of the right wing’s “sky is falling” predictions about health care, the main point is missing. What we have right now simply isn’t working. Premiums are going up at more than a double-digit inflation rate. Insured people are putting off care because insurance companies aren’t covering the extent of the needed care. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday that most people who are in debt from medical bills are insured. Their insurance just isn’t actually covering health care. The insurance companies will gladly take your money as long as you’re healthy. But the minute you get sick – deny, deny, deny. Sounds like a death panel to me.

I’m wondering, what exactly is the right wing scared of, more of the same?

I'm not going to present myself as an expert on this topic, but there are so many really obvious truths. First, In our system people can't even afford to pay the premiums. When I started teaching, a family premium was $500 each month. Now the rate has gone up to $1500. Every double-digit percentage January increase comes directly out of the pockets of enrolled teachers. Our salary structure hasn't kept up. So each January, teachers get an annual pay cut.

Secondly, those Canadiens sure aren't grumbling about their system. Third, why wouldn't any employer want to get into business without the added responsibility of finding and administering an insurance plan?

It seems to me that the only real beneficiaries of our current system are the health insurance companies. Their investors are making a lot of money, and they don't want to be put out of business. Neither did the folks in the auto industry or the ice industry, as far as that goes. But it's time.

Demand a public health care option now.