It is Time for Parents, Students, and Substitute Teachers to Create their Own Labor Unions

Ayn Rand begins her classic book Anthem with “it is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see.” Ayn Rand was neither a progressive nor a conservative by strict definitions. She was a powerful Russian, Jewish, female philosopher that students should read about and debate in class to create lifelong, critical thinkers.   

In the spirit of Ayn Rand, it would truly be a sin to write and for no one to read one’s words. Also, in the we struggle – Ayn Rand would say that the individual’s name and independence may get lost. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on the specific plight of substitute teachers, parents, and students, who many times are not included in the we.

Ayn Rand advocates for individuals to be recognized in society. Through Rand’s philosophy, she points out that certain individual rights get lost and that a we approach should be taken to include all. Not just a select few that benefit. How about the little people doing the grump work? Ayn Rand’s own words.

The plain truth is that substitute teachers are the modern day migrant workers of public education. The Yalitzas of the world from the Roma movie – the silent, invisible, of the world. Many parents and students also feel that they are invisible and not included in school district decisions.

A labor union representing parents and students should be created.

Many of the non-profit parent/student groups are not taken seriously enough, but a labor union would be since it could have legal labor negotiation power.

A substitute labor union was successfully created in Pasadena and substitutes received some benefits and a decent pay rate. These substitute took the we approach and not the I approach. It took tons of organizing work but they were successful.

It is also important to point out that the The L.A. Times used the inaccurate terms of ‘extravagantly’ paid and ‘well paid’ substitute teachers during the recent LAUSD strike news coverage. Substitutes were paid $42/hour during the strike. Wow. Just for six days. That is approximately $252 per day and if you subtract taxes and other payroll deductions it is much less. That barely pays one month of rent and maybe some food.

The rate that substitute teachers get paid on a daily basis is much less and many are on call and do not get to work every day. To put things in perspective, even if someone gets paid $100 per hour – and if they only work five hours in one month – then their earnings are $500 in one month. That is poverty wages! So the $42/hr was erroneously promoted as extravagant pay.

It would have been nice if the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) would have demanded for the pay rate to stay at $42. Now that would have been revolutionary.

Let’s just put it plainly, substitute earnings are poverty wages comparable to Walmart and McDonald’s average wages.

But the fundamental question is, what is the regular pay of substitutes, what benefits do they currently have, and was anything negotiated to improve their unique needs and plight?

Substitute teachers are needed by administrators and teachers alike. It is convenient cheap labor. And how do substitutes get treated? Like migrant workers who are invisible and dispensable.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) must do a better job in representing and organizing substitutes.

What is the golden rule in community organizing? To identify the self-interest and common issues that unify and mobilize the community. Identifying a common ‘enemy-target’ also helps to further mobilize/inspire supporters. UTLA specifically targeted superintendent Beutner and LAUSD board president Monica Garcia.

Sometimes organizing strategies do not necessarily include specific needs of individuals who work in bureaucracies that are structured in a top down, military type structures. People who work in these monumental bureaucracies begin to be perceived as robots with no emotions or human needs.

Just look at the recent federal worker shutdown situation, the federal contract workers on the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy will not receive back pay. The people who provide security, clean the buildings, and provide other back breaking work. They are perceived as dispensable, low wage workers with no clout of labor law protections.

Public education was established in a hierarchical, top down, bureaucracy where orders and rules are given and must be followed. Centuries have passed, but this structure continues to this day.

Just visit a public school and see how it is structured. The principal and vice principals are at the top. Other support staff is usually left out of the conversations/equation. Attendance is taken and submitted to obtain the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding.

Try changing a century old bureaucracy.

The point here is that substitute teachers are necessary, yet they do not receive the compensation that comes with the great responsibility of being in the classroom. Many adult educators, administrators, and some students may see substitutes as sub human and many subs get ignored and disrespected on a daily basis since they are perceived as part timers and low pay migrant workers.

A start would be if the title of sub would be change since it is a negatively stigmatized term. Substitute teacher needs to be officially changed to guest teacher.

It may not seem like a big deal but it would be a start in helping to humanize and show some respect towards substitutes. Pardon me, but guest teacher sounds much better.

If you think substitute teaching is easy, try it for a week or two. Continuously. Then, please blog about it or post your experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or create a blog. It will no longer be a Hollywood parody but a reality check.

Everyone loves to talk about public education as if they were an expert on the subject, but who are the adults who are most in the classroom on a daily basis? Teachers and substitute teachers.

Yes, outside substitute teachers (many through temp agencies) were brought in to work during the LAUSD strike, but most LAUSD substitute teachers supported the strike and did not cross the picket line and received no pay at all for six days. Imagine if the strike would have gone longer, just like the federal government work freeze? The consequences would have been truly devastating.

Now, as a society, we must ask ourselves, will we help to empower everyone or just our own self interests? If we truly do want to improve public education – let us start with the people who sacrifice through commitment and grit to be in some of the toughest classrooms – teachers and substitute teachers.

Ultimately, substitute teachers need to organize and establish their own statewide labor union – United Substitute Teachers of California. Now that would truly be revolutionary to follow in the footsteps and example of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, through the creation of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Then, to shake things up further, a statewide parent/student labor union needs to be created to truly become part of the we social movement.

Substitute teachers, parents, and students of California, unite!

What do you think?

The following two tabs change content below.

Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll, attended some of the toughest public schools within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). He and his family moved dozens of times throughout Los Angeles. He attended Menlo Avenue Elementary School – which he loved dearly as a child – even though violence was an everyday occurrence in the surrounding community. He survived James A. Foshay Junior High School in the mid 1980’s. As a child, he escaped a rural Civil War in El Salvador, and while in Los Angeles, he escaped an urban Civil War (taking place in South Central Los Angeles) by being accepted into the A Better Chance-ABC scholarship program by going far way to study at John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota. Hella cold. He returned to his community by applying and being accepted into Occidental College where he was indoctrinated to become a social justice activist, reader, writer, free thinker, and free, rebel, spirit.

More Comments