Monday, June 06, 2022

Now, It Seems, Is The Time

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a Starbucks drinker since they were a single store in the Pike Place Public Market in downtown Seattle. So you'll excuse me if I have fond, vestigial memories of that enormous international corporation as a funky coffee shop with a product unlike anything I'd ever tasted. I'm on the verge of dropping them, however, due to their aggressive union busting activities. Indeed, I'm just waiting for the union to call for a boycott.

I'm a union supporter. Corporations have a long list of anti-union rationale, but the bottom line is that unionized workers tend to have higher pay and better job security than non-union workers. That's the power of sticking together. I mean, if corporations are free to ally themselves with other corporations through mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships, then workers (the other side of the capitalistic equation) should be able to do the same. Indeed, as our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln said, "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

I'm also a democracy supporter and, at bottom, unions are democracies that fight to exist within the totalitarian hierarchies of corporations.

I understand that some unions have become corrupt and some have engaged in nefarious practices over the decades. The same goes for our all of our democratic institutions. And the same goes for corporations -- in spades. It's part of the challenge of any large, human endeavor. There are always some who will succumb to greed and power, so for me, that criticism of unions is a non-starter.

The reason I'm writing about this here is that Starbucks is a hugely successful corporation with over $4 billion in profits last year and top executives taking home upwards of $20 million in compensation. A barista, on average, made around $27,853 last year. Just as employers have the supply-and-demand leverage to get away with low pay during eras of high unemployment, workers now in this era of historically low unemployment have the leverage to demand higher pay. This is the way our capitalism-based economic system is supposed to work, right?

Currently, the average preschool teacher in the US makes a little over $30,000 per year, only slightly more than a Starbucks barista. Being a barista is undoubtedly hard work, and I don't want to in any way diminish their labor, but I think even they would agree that early childhood professionals are deserving of significantly more, if only because without us the economy simply cannot function. Not to mention our central role in raising and caring for our youngest citizens. Not to mention that our profession ranks among the most stressful, a situation has not been improved by pandemics, gun violence, and being on the frontlines of all of our nasty national political divisions.

If our economic system worked, of course, we would already be better compensated because demand for our services far outstrips supply. We are already experiencing teacher shortages across the country. Enrollment in university programs that educate teachers are under enrolled. And there is a ton of anecdotal evidence that this summer will see a mass exodus from our field. Indeed, I know several former preschool teachers who have recently become baristas because, they tell me, they make the same money with more flexibility and with lower stress.

When the Starbucks union organizing is successful, and I expect it will be, barista annual income will surpass that of early childhood educators. I can't blame anyone for choosing more flexibility, lower stress, and better pay. 

Last week, I suggested that we, as educators, have the power, right now, to force Congress to pass common sense gun safety laws. We also have the power, if we find a way to come together, to demand fair compensation for our work. I have no idea how something like this could happen, it requires leadership and organizational skills I don't have, but now, it seems, is the time.

As school transformation icon Diane Ravitch says, "Teachers' working conditions are student's learning conditions." What we do for ourselves will serve the children.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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