By LESLEY TOTH
While working for a mid-sized middle school in south-central Minnesota, I often griped about the union dues I had to pay as part of my terms of employment as a paraprofessional.
As a media assistant, I supervised more students in one class period than many of my para-peers did in an entire week. I held two bachelor’s degrees while the requirements of a similar position were a single associates degree or two years of some type of higher education. The thought that I was receiving the same wages as someone down the hall with fewer qualifications and fewer responsibilities was especially annoying come payday.
At the time, I would have probably thrown my support whole-heartedly behind the movement to make Minnesota a “Right to Work” state. I was frustrated and underemployed, working two jobs for the same income I had previously enjoyed. And during times of economic stress, we all may be tempted into making decisions that may seem to rectify a perceivable injustice.
Now that my personal financial situation improved, a clearer head can prevail. Looking back, I would not want the frustrations I experienced to be a catalyst for changing an entire system from which the vast majority of employees benefited. And I think the small number of cases similar to my own are over-represented in the rhetoric surrounding the current debate taking place in the Minnesota Legislature.
I don’t think it’s fair to dismantle the union system across the public and private sectors with such sweeping legislation to appease the wishes of the few, who most likely do not currently hold a union position. Most of those who complain about unionized employment were like myself — mere temporary participants. We become so wrapped up in our own circumstances that we forget about those whose situations are vastly different and who happily pay those dues — those who will continue to work those union jobs long after we’ve moved on.
It’s disingenuous to claim if it were not for the “forced union participation” that I would have stayed in that position. Although my time as Mrs. Toth the “media lady” was extremely rewarding, I have a calling for journalism that refuses to abate.
And I already had the “right” to accept or deny the terms of employment the administration offered. Before my first day, I could have decided that participation in the union was an unacceptable caveat. And, when opportunity knocked, it was my “right” to notify the school district that I had accepted another job.
The Minnesota House and Senate will most likely pass the “Right to Work” amendment proposal soon. That means it will be up to voters come November. Being that only 1 in 10 jobs are unionized, it seems a bit bizarre to allow 90 percent of the population to dictate the terms of employment for the other 10 percent.
Not to mention the proposal includes a highly “un-American” notion of a free lunch — essentially allowing employees to not pay the dues, but reap the rewards the union has established. And what would stop companies or administrations from hiring only those who say they have no intentions of joining the union? As the scale tips toward more non-union employees, this would effectively erode the collective bargaining efforts and take worker compensation backwards.
And I’m not sure about you, but I am tiring of the seemingly unending stream of constitutional amendments pouring from state lawmakers. Perhaps if the legislators proposing this focused more on their own jobs, we wouldn’t have to do it for them.