I have been a public school teacher for 15 years. I’ve been in two districts in my career, and have experienced several contract negotiations as a teacher. During my 13th year teaching, I decided to be a negotiator when it was time to bargain our new contract. And now, as a second year teacher in a new district, I am a negotiator for our new contract yet again.
I always appreciated the time my negotiators put in for me and the membership. The union in my previous district was strong and we rallied behind our negotiators and trusted them implicitly. But concessions had to be made, and contract language was brought to us with so many things we didn’t want or agree with. And I could never understand how and why that could happen. People often got angry because the actual negotiation procedures were mostly confidential and we couldn’t be informed of everything that happened at meetings.
So I shot my mouth off back in 2013 after our last contract was ratified, and told everyone that I would apply to be a negotiator when we bargained our next contract in three years. 2016 came around and colleagues looked to me to put my money where my mouth is. And when I came to my new district in 2017, I knew I was going to be a part of the process again.
Well. Let me say that the commitment was more than I ever thought. The conversations, the confidentiality, the picking apart language, the meeting everyone’s needs. The stress is real. You can’t talk about anything with anyone except your fellow negotiators. You have to keep your cool with administrators when they can’t imagine why teachers are asking for certain rights or language.
I guess my message would be that I never realized how much went into this process until I became a part of it. And if you’ve never been a part of it, I hope you realize the time, effort, and energy your negotiators put in for you. We try to have all the hard conversations for all our members. We have to hang our heads and hide our faces when we know we can’t get what our members want. It isn’t as black and white as I always thought. So go easy on your negotiators when you are going through contract bargaining. We really are trying to do the best we can.