Ex-school board member sees both sides of issue

Friday, March 11, 2011

I've been on both sides of collective bargaining.

I have been an elected official with the United Auto Workers and part of local teacher contract negotiations and bargaining in Marshall County.

There is give and take during negotiations, but the union would not exist without the company -- any company: Ford, GM, and local school districts or public workers.

By the same token, having been on the other side of the issue -- elected to the county commission and the school board -- I struggled with budgetary constraints and taxpayer dollars at work.

Walter Reuther of the UAW said that what workers want is to be recognized and treated fairly. He advocated an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

It seems to me that some people have forgotten the fact that we have to put forth an effort and present a quality product, whatever that product may be.

Some have taken advantage of the fact that once they've reached tenure, in a teacher's case, it's smooth sailing.

Take a look at the NFL's union, particularly Albert Haynesworth. He figured that if he plays great for a season or two he will get his dollars up and receive a reward and then let his guard down and slack off.

The same mentality applies with public unions; "Once I get my 90 days in, I'm good to go."

Now, having said that, the same goes for the other side of the fence. Most elected officials look for the next step, or have a drive to change something that is near and dear to their heart. Others are there for other people's purpose, or other people's agenda. Most high-level executives and elected officials could care less about the people and focus only on the bottom line and how to pick the low-hanging fruit to cut cost and increase their bonus, or get reelected, then set up their own golden parachute and say, "See ya later and good luck."

Regular union people only want decent health care coverage, an honest day's pay, to return home in the same shape they went to work in (in other words, no injuries), and, above all, to be treated like they belong and are a part of something, that their voice was heard.

They don't want to run the company or the school system or the public works. However, if more executives, schools directors and boards listened to the people who are actually doing the work and respect them as human beings, then things would be smoother.

I, for one, disagree with cutting the unions' ability to bargain. The public workers -- teachers -- were willing to meet us half way, and always have. In my experience, having been on both sides, they do whatever it takes to keep the program going.

Without the ability to bargain and let their voice be heard, we have nothing but a dictatorship and that is un-American.

I'm out of politics on both sides but still have people calling me about the future, people stop me every day here in Kansas asking me questions about the union and want me to run for something. But, I have, so far, declined.

As for my future in Marshall County? Who knows?

Mark Wilkerson worked at the GM plant in Spring Hill and he continues work for GM.