(BTU) is a labor union for teachers and otherprofessionals in the larger Boston area. The union represents over7,000 professional and substitute teachers as well as otherprofessionals and paraprofessionals in other fields such as nursingand psychology. In addition, about 2,500 retirees are alsorepresented by the union. With such a strong membership, the unionhas a voice in influencing labor issues that affect their members. Tofurther augment its negotiating capabilities, BTU is an affiliatemember of other union bodies such as the Greater Boston LaborCouncil, which is a federation of over 160 local unions, and theAmerican Federation of Teachers. This paper offers a brief backgroundof the BTU, its history, its current state, public attitude towardsthe union as a well as a personal opinion on this union.
BTU was established in 1965 as the sole exclusive bargaining agentfor teachers working within the Boston public education system. Withtime, the entity sought to collectively represent professionalteachers and all administrative and non-administrative staff workingin the Boston areas education system as well as other professionalsoutside the education field. The union’s headquarters are locatedat 180 Mt. Vernon Street, Boston.
Initially, the union targeted to represent only teachers in publicschools in Boston. The inclusion of other professions andparaprofessionals in other fields was only added to further increasemembership and negotiating capabilities of the union. Furthermore,the number of workers in other professions in the Boston area was toosmall to form their own profession-specific unions and thus opted tojoin BTU for collective representation. Ideally, the union’s solereason of establishment was to create a body for collectivebargaining for members.
The union is led by a democratically elected executive board. Theboard comprises of BTU officer-bearers headed by a president andelected members. The office bearers that sit in the board include,president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, elementary field rep,para/substitute representative, secondary field rep., para/substitutefield rep, political organizer, parent and community liaison,director of organizing, director of professional learning, externalorganizer, internal organizer, co-editor-Boston union teacher,co-editor- Boston union teacher. Another 12 members are elected bymembers every two years to sit in the board. The board is chargedwith running the union and negotiating all major decisions on behalfof the members.
Since establishment, BTU has been involved in pushing for bettercompensation, benefits and working conditions for its members. Forinstance, in 1975 the union pushed for introduction of childcareleave for teachers as the number of female teachers increased. Thesame year, the union pushed to have nurses moved to Teacher Salarylane in order to obtain health and welfare benefits similar to thoseof teachers. Other major milestones of the union include thereduction of class sizes in 1986 to be in line with global standards.Class sizes reduced from 28 to 25(K-3), from 33 to 28(K4-K5), from 33to 30 (K6-K8), and from 36 to 33 (K9-K12). These class sizes werelater reviewed in 2002 to be even smaller. The year 2000 also sawmajor changes in working conditions and benefits for the unionmembers including nurses. Nurse ratios were dropped from 800/1 to750/1.
Besides bargaining for better member compensation and benefits, theunion also campaigns for health and education reforms to improvequality. For instance, in 1966, the union together with the BostonPublic Schools launched a pilot program for duty-free lunch grievanceprocedure. This was later extended to 72 elementary schools and ahealth welfare fund established at $50 per members in 1968 (BTU).Other measures have included calls to ensure better culturaldiversity among teachers in order to match with the larger populationof minority groups in the area. Education experts have noted thatqualified teachers from minority groups not only serve as role modelsto learners from minority groups but are better placed in teachinglearners from minority groups given that they have a shared culturalbackground and worldview that enhances communication, understandingand learning (BTU)
Through such milestones, the union has not had major transformationalleaders except for the current who has served in the last 20 years(Leigh). This man, Richard Stutman, has overseen numerous changes forunion members and also public education and health. For instance, theestablishment of new committees such as the LGBT community not seeksto address the matter of diversity among its members but also ensurethat the rights of these members are protected. In terms ofeducation, Stutman has pushed for smaller classes and reduction intests in favor of more learning.
To ensure efficiency in its operations, the union has over the yearscreated several committees as the role and positioning of the unionin the market has changed. Today there are numerous committees. Forthe powerful committees, members are elected after every two yearswhile for the lesser powerful are headed by members placed incommittees indefinitely and others are headed by volunteers. Some ofthe outstanding and unique committees are Community AdvisoryBoard/Community Outreach Committee, Immigrant Rights Committee,Inclusion Committee, LGBTQ Committee, Nurse Faculty Senate ParentAdvisory Committee, Scholarship Committee, Special Ed Faculty Senate,Steering Committee and the Women’s Rights Committee.
By simply looking at the mentioned committees, it is clear that theunion has clearly changed its mandate over the years. In 2009 forinstance, the union adopted a new role as a provider of educationservices. While the provision of education is mandated to thegovernment, councils and private entities, the union launched anelementary school to serve as a model school for others schools. Thisschool, Boston Teachers Union School, as a model pilot school has noprincipal but is headed by two co-teacher leaders. School hours arealso 30- minutes longer and the schools are allowed to hire teachersfrom outside the district. Essentially, the new school model set todecentralize power from school district administrator and hand itover to school staff in order to respond better to the needs oflearners (Vazniz). Nonetheless, this falls within the role of unionsof pursuing better working conditions for members.
Although labor unions have been largely associated with industrialactions such as strikes which portray them negatively, BTU has gainedpublic trust and admiration for promoting quality education as wellas teacher welfare. The union has set up a model pilot school thatdevolves power from district education administrator to the teachersheading the school shows that the union is serious about the qualityand management of public education. Furthermore, the push to reducethe class sizes and nurse patient ratio in Boston is generally gearedtowards public as well as reducing workload to service providers,which has an implication on quality. To support this public backingare record-breaking academic in Boston public schools in the last fewyears. Learners of African-American and Hispanic descent, who havehistorically registered poor academic performance, have registeredthe greatest improvement (2013 MCAS results). Such improvements canbe partially attributed to the efforts of the union in pushing forminority teachers and better teaching approaches.
In my view, I support and recognize the achievements the union hadmade in the Boston public education system. The area has laggedbehind in education owing to larger concentration of minority groups.However, with the union addressing this issue, even better outcomesare possible in the near future. Nonetheless, I am not happy with thefact that the union has not actively addressed some issues thataffects learners directly. The issue of school meals should beaddressed by the union. The union should be pushing for more healthymeals for learners given that diet can affect concentration in classand academic performance as well as health. With nurses wellrepresented in the group, the union should be capable of advocatingimproved diets for learners as well as better learning resources forboth teachers and learners. This is also particularly importantbecause teachers are evaluated based on the performance of theirlearners.
General views andconclusion
All in all, I believe that the union has achieved major goals of aunion. The public support that unions get is critically in validatingtheir mandate for collective bargaining given that they are paidusing taxpayers money. However, it is important that labor unionslike BTU should always place the plight of learners before theirneeds. This suggest that teachers should be selfish to push forreforms that would benefit them but lower education standards asStutman was accused of doing by supporting the cap on charter schoolsin 2013. By carefully harmonizing the union members’ needs andpublic needs, unions are likely to have mutual benefits to membersand the public.
2013 MCAS resultsshow record achievement. 2015.
Boston TeachersUnion. 2015. Web.<http://btu.org/contract-highlights/49-years-of-contractual-
Leigh, Scot.Teachers union nod? No thanks. Botson Globe, May 31 2015. Web.
Vazniz, James. Union hopes to show and tell. 2009. Web.