What’s it like to be an educator in a so-called right to Work state?

We were reading through the latest issue of Ohio Schools Magainze, and came upon this terrific article by a retired teacher, on her experiences working in a right to work state. Here’s that article.

OEA-Retired Member Dawn Wojcik Offers Insight About Why These Laws Are Harmful And What To Expect If They Are Enacted In Ohio.

In 1981, when Dawn wojcik began her teaching career, Ohio’s economy was faltering. As a recent graduate from the University of Dayton with a Masters degree and teaching credentials, she applied for every English teacher opening in the state. She was the Avis candidate—trying harder, yet coming in second place in the 10 positions for which she interviewed.

As the school year started, she found herself living at home with her parents and looking forward to subbing until something better turned up.

A week into the school year, Wojcik received a phone call from the personnel director for the Franklin Parish Schools in Louisiana. The parish (county) needed a ninth-grade English teacher at Morgan City High School. Wojcik was hired over the phone based solely on her resume and transcripts.

She was excited at the prospect of her first teaching position, but unprepared for the realities of working as an educator in a so-called Right to Work state.

Wojcik soon learned that despite the name, Right to Work laws limit rights, meaning that educators have less power to advocate for student learning conditions and educator working conditions.

Public education takes a hit in SCRTW states as teachers move to other states with lower class sizes, better salaries and benefits, and more job security. School funding suffers, too. States with Right to Work laws spend $3,392 less per pupil on elementary and secondary education. And without the ability to bargain for better teaching and learning conditions, academic achievement declines. The majority of states with SCRTW laws are among the lowest performing in the nation.

“There was a shortage of teachers in Louisiana’s “oil parishes.” I was thrilled to have a job, especially one with a beginning salary of $15,100 a year $400 more a year than the best paying position I had applied for in Ohio. These higher salaries were possible because of taxes on the oil drilled in the parish. Teachers had not bargained these salaries. It was the luck of being in an “oil parish” that provided the resources for these salaries. Salaries throughout the rest of the state were much lower.

My first day on the job, I received grammar and literature textbooks. I asked my department chair where I should start. She thumped her arthritic finger into her desk and, in a southern drawl, said, “I always start with the verb” as she glared at me from her desk. I never received any additional direction from her.

There was no effort to mentor new teachers. We were our own to do the best we could without guidance or support. After a few months in the classroom, I received some instruction on how to write lesson plans. I learned that I was to identify Pupil Performance Objectives in my lesson plans. All teachers were to be teaching to these same standardized objectives. These objectives were to be on my desk and available for administrators to see at all times.

I didn’t realize how important being a part of the education association was until I worked as a professional at Northmont. In Louisiana, the limited role I had in the education profession was directly related to legal limitations on bargaining and educators’ ability to organize. My first three years as a teacher, I was left to sink or swim as an employee. because of collective bargaining in ohio, I was actively involved as an education professional for 27 years.
Dawn Wojcik, Retired Teacher

Here was no support for teachers, no mentors, no professional development. And there was no mechanism for teachers to have input for our profession.

As money tightened up, there was talk that franklin Parish would increase class sizes and close some of its schools. My colleagues were upset. Talk in the workrooms encouraged us all to go to the school board meeting. enough teachers showed up to pack the boardroom. But no one spoke up with our concerns.

After listening at the school board meeting, the self-appointed leaders determined that there was nothing we could do short of a statewide strike. They concluded that even that action would be fruitless. As we faced this financial crisis, we had no avenue to communicate our students’ needs to those who made the decisions about the learning conditions for our students. It was discouraging to not have a voice. Working in a No Rights at Work state made us powerlessness in this situation.

My $15,100 Louisiana starting salary had impressed me until I had some time to study the salary schedule.

It was then that I saw a different story. While my starting salary was higher in Louisiana than in Ohio, even with a Ph.D. and 30 plus years of experience, the top of the salary schedule would be no more than $22,000.

During my second year in Louisiana, I began applying for jobs in Ohio. I was fortunate that by the end of my third year, Northmont City Schools hired me, and I returned home to Ohio in 1984 to teach at Northmont high School.

At the time I was hired, the Northmont District education Association (NDeA) was preparing to take a strike vote. The local leader- ship took time to meet new teachers, patiently answering our questions about the bargaining crisis. I joined in order to have a vote. We voted to give a 10-day strike notice, an action that brought the parties back to the table and resulted in significant improvements in the contract.

With the new Northmont contract, I would be making nearly $4,000 more a year than I had been after three years in Louisiana. I had better medical insurance and vision and dental coverage. Not only were the financial rewards of returning to my home state significantly better but also, because of the leadership of my local, I was welcomed as a new teacher. Other teachers shared their lesson plans and materials. The school district offered professional development throughout the year. Our collective bargaining agreement called for a labor management team that met regularly to share concerns through- out the district. Our NDeA held a district-wide Monte Carlo event to raise money for student scholarships to summer enrichment programs and college.

I worked for 27 years at Northmont high School and was always treated like a professional. This was a huge contrast to the experience I had at Morgan City high School in Louisiana, a so-called Right to Work (or as I say, a No Rights at Work) state.

Recently, I checked to see what I would have earned at the end of my career in Louisiana and what that would have meant for my retirement income. had I stayed in Louisiana, my retirement would be about one third less than what it is now.