One voice, one vote.

Breaking news: the contract negotiated by our bargaining team, made up of rank and file members, teachers like you and me, was ratified by 63.2% (4,713 votes) to 36.8% (2,739 votes). The results have been certified by VoteNet.

To me, the breaking news is not that the contract was ratified, and it would perhaps not have been breaking news if it had NOT been ratified. What is breaking news to me–though by now it shouldn’t be–is that a total of only 7,452 individuals voted. That may sound like a lot, unless you consider that there are roughly 30,000 employees in our bargain unit, every one of them eligible to vote, and every one of them notified through several e-mails of when and how to vote. The numbers mean that only about a QUARTER of those eligible to vote actually voted.

I guess this should come as no surprise. Yet I cannot help but be disappointed. Whether people are for or against the negotiated contract, they should have expressed that view through a vote. Even though I do not believe that non-members should have had the right to vote–if they care about the contract they get, why aren’t they members of the union bargaining for that contract?–it would still have made sense for them to vote. But even if you cut out all the non-members, we should still have had roughly 15,000 total votes. Yet we had only a little more than half of that…and I am fairly certain that not every single vote cast in this ratification process came from a union member.

Still, there will be plenty of people who did not vote complaining about the result. Does this sound familiar?

We will see the same thing happen in November. There are a lot of teachers, support staff, and other school employees in this state. We make up a powerful voting bloc. Or we should, anyway. Yet an awful lot of us don’t actually vote in elections. I know teachers who don’t vote. The most frequent excuse is, “What does it matter anyway? They’re all the same.” The problem with that is that they are NOT all the same. While I can certainly sympathize with disillusionment at what so many of our elected officials do with the powers they are given, and while it is true that many promises end up broken, to say that they are all the same is a fallacy, and a dangerous one. There are friends who, while they may not have the numbers or the power to give us everything we want, are not hellbent on destroying us, either.

Even more disturbing than those who do not vote at all are those teachers who will go out and vote for the very same people who have put us in the economic predicament that prevents us from getting our steps, from getting a raise, or even feeling secure in our jobs when we are working our hardest every day. There are many teachers who will go to the polls and vote for individuals because of the letter after their name, because that is what they have been doing as long as they’ve been able to vote–as often as not because that’s how their parents voted–and then they will kick and scream when the school budget gets cut again, when more kids get stuffed in their classroom, when badly needed repairs don’t happen, when they do not have enough textbooks for their students, when there is no hope of them getting a step or a raise. They will kick and scream that the new evaluation system is unfair, even though they voted for the people responsible for creating that evaluation system…and they will, at this point, probably have voted for them AGAIN after they already created the system. Most infuriating for me (and many of us), they will kick and scream that the union is not working hard enough, or has “sold out,” or whatever other conspiracy theories may be popular at the moment, and that that is the reason we aren’t getting a raise, that is the reason why we’re under this new evaluation system, that is the reason why there are too many kids in their class, etc. As if their union (which they may or may not even be part of) were somehow responsible for the laws and budgets passed by their state legislators.

These bad laws, these bad budgets, they come from somewhere. THEY COME FROM PEOPLE. They are not inevitable, whatever those responsible for them would like for you to believe. They do not appear out of thin air from one day to the next. They are carefully planned and written out by very powerful, heavily vested corporate interests. All those new tests? You can bet the testing companies wrote the laws requiring them. The legislated influx of money to charter schools? The charter school management companies’ lobbyists wrote those laws and budgets, too.

You had a choice this Monday. You could vote to ratify our contract, or you could vote to send our bargaining team back to the table. Some of you exercised this choice and used your voice. Many of you did not.

You have 3 choices in November.

#1. You can vote for people who will hold public education harmless, who will use their voice and their vote to staunch the flow of public education dollars to for-profit corporations, who will try to right some of the wrongs perpetrated by past legislators and governors.

#2. You can vote for the people who got us in this predicament and will continue to take the dollars out of your paycheck, will continue to make sure that private, for-profit charters get money for construction and repairs before our school, will make sure that you will be evaluated on things beyond your control because setting public schools up to fail frees up money for corporate interests.

#3. You can choose not to vote at all, leaving your decision to others to make. The band Rush says it well…”If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” By not exercising your voice, by not casting your vote, you are saying you do not care. You do not care who gets elected, what they do when they get to Tallahassee…you do not care if you get a raise or not, you do not care if you have any job security or not, you do not care how you are evaluated, you do not care if the building you work in crumbles around your feet, you do not care if you have 25 students per class or 100, you do not care if you are respected or not.

Know who your legislators are. Know how they have voted on the issues that matter to you. All of this information is available at and If you do not already have this information, it’s high time you took a moment to find out. And then tell a friend. Or two. Or three. Tell the teacher next door. Tell your aging mother who has always voted the same way, no matter what, for reasons even she cannot clearly articulate. Know why you are voting the way you are, and then explain it to those around you, and encourage them to vote for the things they believe in, for the things that will help themselves and their students.

What has happened to public education in this state is sad indeed. But at the end of the day, who is responsible?

The answer? Every single one of us who should have voted for a friend, and instead voted for an enemy, or did not vote at all.



About Jennifer I. Smith-Camejo

I am a writer with a passion for politics and organized labor. View all posts by Jennifer I. Smith-Camejo

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