Union protests parent volunteers

Parent volunteers are under fire at a northern California school that’s laid off support staff, reports the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. The classified employees’ union at Petaluma Junior High School claims it’s illegal for volunteers to supervise at lunch, answer phones in the front office or help a salaried librarian monitor students in the library before classes begin, all paid jobs that were eliminated due to budget cuts. The union even opposes the use of parent volunteers in new positions.

Volunteers, including teachers, renovate decaying schools in NBC’s School Pride, reports HechingerEd.

About Joanne


  1. CarolineSF says:

    It is a really basic issue in labor that paid workers aren’t supposed to replaced by volunteers — that was the case with the Newspaper Guild contracts that you and I worked under in past years, Joanne. Presumably you appreciated not having your job farmed out to bright-eyed, eager interns. That’s a standard, accepted point in labor contracts (mutually negotiated between labor and management).

    That said, with schools, unions seem to generally look the other way and “don’t ask don’t tell.” With facilities maintenance/upgrades, construction unions have made deals to accept parent and community volunteerism. It’s a tough situation all around. But I have to say it’s a little willfully obtuse to pretend that you don’t get why it’s an issue that’s likely to come up at times.

  2. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Actually, I don’t see why an intern can’t replace a reporter, if he or she can do a good job. The value of the reporter should come from his or her writing ability and other attributes (e.g., reliability, breadth of knowledge, etc.) and not because the reporter happened to be hired by the newspaper before the intern showed up.

    While some treat jobs as entitlements there is no reason for the broader public to condone it. If unions treat schools as job generation engines rather than worry about the service they provide to the community, surely they should not be surprised if the community treats them as just an interest group like any other that tries to grab control of some segment of the economy and squeeze the most out of it.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Isn’t newspaper readership declining? Aren’t paid reporters being replaced by blogs and free content providers like HuffPo, Drudge, and The Daily Caller? Previoulsy I subscribed to two newspapers (a local weekly and national daily). I don’t any longer. Why should I when I can get my content for free from the web without all the recycling? This is an blog focusing on a pet interest of mine – education, which I read for free ( I did buy Joanne’s book – thumbs up).

    There are thousands of parents who undermine union authority everday as they educate their children at home. The old institutions, including institutional schools, unions, and newspapers, are dying. Get used to it folks.

  4. There are a few differences between public schools and newspapers. To name a few, public schools are not for-profit businesses, they run on tax dollars and not sales revenues, and students aren’t free to take their tuition dollars elsewhere.

    It wouldn’t bother me to see public employee unions disbanded or at least restricted in some way. Then perhaps the parents will be free to cross picket lines in order to volunteer.

  5. In the 50’s and 60’s, the heyday of the American middle class, union membership was at its highest. Now the middle class is disintegrating and unions are almost dead. It seems to me that unions helped create a middle class, and their destruction (through outsourcing, etc.) is contributing to the destruction of the middle class. It seems we’re heading back to a feudal set up –a rich elite at the top and powerless, poor, frightened “serfs” –grateful for any crumbs –beneath.

  6. Of course, it’s only wealthy parents, usually a stay at home mom, who can volunteer, so in a few years this will be referred to as yet another way in which cutting educational funding has a disproportionate impact on the poor.

    I’m not a union fan, but it’s quite correct that if union workers should not be laid off with the mindset that hey, it’s okay, we can find some parents to fill the gap.

  7. Same story here – Bridgewater Massachusetts union opposes parent volunteers in library.

  8. Two thoughts –
    First, schools really need to do some union busting. Whether its some overly harsh move (like firing every non-tenured teacher to make a point) or more subversive (like encouraging district-friendly teachers to run for union positions), the status quo of the unions need to change.

    Second, the mission of the schools is to educate students, not to provide jobs to the unions. If a school cannot afford many of these paraprofessional positions yet has capable volunteers waiting to step in, I’m all for it.

  9. Our elementary school lost its volunteer librarian after the union complained. Now the kids don’t have a librarian.

  10. CarolineSF says:

    Obviously, there are a variety of opinions about unions in general, public employee unions, and the question of whether an unpaid volunteer (or intern) can and should replace a paid employee.

    My point is just that if you’re going to have a union contract at all (of course, some people feel that there shouldn’t be such thing), it’s going to offer some measure of job security, or it’s meaningless. And a basic piece of offering job security is some kind of ban or limit on replacing paid employees covered by the contract with unpaid volunteers (or interns).

    As noted, teachers’ unions and other unions representing public school employees generally look the other way. It’s unavoidable that it’s going to come up as an issue occasionally, though, given the amount of work at public schools that’s done by volunteers (I personally have done countless hours’ worth).

    It’s disingenuous for a commentator with a basic understanding of the issues to feign outrage when it does come up.

  11. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    It is true that most union contracts today offer some level of job security. But it doesn’t have to be so. Union contracts can focus on due process, reasonable working conditions, or equitable teratment of employees. Job security doesn’t have to be a significant component. One could reasonably argue that the job security component is responsible for much of the demise of unions in the private sector — in dynamic economy companies cannot survive if they must commit to maintaining work force that is too big or has wrong composition for their needs. Auto companies are prime examples of this trend. That is possibly the reason why unions maintain their stronghold only on the public sector, that does not have to respond to the market forces on a short term basis, or why unions never took hold in competitive sectors like high tech. In the long term … see the fiscal conditions of states like California, New York, or New Jersey; or of public retirement funds; or the non-government auto companies fast disappearing, Ford being the last one standing.

    Al Shanker understood much of this, and therefore he was generally supportive of merit pay, student assessment, and … horror of horrors … charter schools. Perhaps not in their every possible incarnation, but in their larger sense. He understood that if the union does not provide visible value to the parents and children (read: community) but only to its members, the community will eventually turn against the unions. Which is what we now witness in many places.

    As an aside, it baffles me how someone can be accused of disingenuousness because of misunderstanding (“basic understanding”) . Perhaps a trip to the dictionary is indicated.

  12. Peace Corps says:

    It seems to me that if a voluteer who is not compelled to show up can do a job or service adequately, then maybe it is a job or service that is not necessary for day-to-day operation.

  13. A professional librarian has had 6 years of post graduate training. Professional monitors are well versed in student behavior, and their action won’t open the school to lawsuits.

    If I’m volunteering for any of these positions, and I want to go to Boca Raton for a couple of weeks during the school year, what are the kids supposed to do?

    I know there are a lot of parents in Scarsdale that will be happy to help when it’s convenient, but how many in Yonkers, Newark, Compton, or Concrete, WA?

  14. “It seems to me that unions helped create a middle class, and their destruction (through outsourcing, etc.) is contributing to the destruction of the middle class.”

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that outsourcing impacts unions in much the same way that it impacts the middle class in general? There are many non-union middle class jobs (e.g. technical and engineering) that are being outsourced as well.

    I agree that private sector unions helped expand the middle class and improve working conditions, but most of those accomplishments happened at least 50 or 60 years ago. I don’t know what the public sector unions claim as a comparable accomplishment, then or now.

  15. Ms.Cornelius says:

    Ze’ev, Albert Shanker supported a very different vision of charter schools than what is currently in operation. He envisioned charters as working with all kids of all kinds, including kids with learning disabilities. That’s not what usually developsin the charters here in the Land Between the Coasts.

  16. CarolineSF says:

    Ze’ev Wurman, when you claim that an intern can do the job of a veteran journalist, that’s rather a slam on Joanne Jacobs, as I was implicitly drawing a parallel with her (and my) formerly unionized former workplace and her (and my) former jobs. So be it, but I’m just saying.

    It seems obvious to any reasonable person that a union contract would be worthless if it didn’t provide some job security protections. But that’s really a separate argument. My point was that as currently understood, union contracts DO provide job security protections. Job security protection by definition precludes management from replacing paid workers with unpaid volunteers.

    And yes, it’s either severely uninformed (especially for someone deeply involved in education issues) or dishonest (I’m shocked — shocked) to try to cite Al Shanker as a supporter of charters. If you didn’t know it before, now you do: Shanker was aghast at what he had wrought and withdrew his support of charter schools.

  17. We had summer interns at the Mercury News. They were paid union scale. Some were very bright and did good work. When the newspaper ran out of money, it cut the number of interns drastically. I don’t know if the program has survived.

    These days, many newspapers are hiring laid-off employees as freelancers and using free copy produced by foundation-funded writers (some of them laid off by nwspapers). Bay Area Citizen, a non-profit, writes the local pages for the New York Times. The San Francisco Chronicle uses stories by Bay Area Citizen as well. The Hechinger Institute, for which I write Community College Spotlight (ccspotlight.org), pays freelancers to write on community college issues and offers the copy free to newspapers. Health foundations are doing this too. The Newspaper Guild (our union) goes along because there’s no hope the newspapers will hire more reporters to do the work at union scale.