Below is our KEA President, Janet Bell’s speech from the Welcome Back Rally at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.  In her speech you will learn about who our KEA President is and why she is passionate about helping to lead our union this school year.  Please take a few moments and read it if you missed the rally.

Good morning! It is good to see so many here, ready to serve children in the classrooms, the office, on the buses and in the kitchens.  It’s good to see teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, custodians, psychologists, and our plethora of “Rock Stars” who serve kids in many and mysterious ways. A special “shout out” to our secretaries, who are back at our buildings doing miracles all day today.

For those I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, I came to Kennewick School District in 1994.  I have taught at Kennewick High School, Amistad Elementary and Sage Crest Elementary.  I have been a lifeskills teacher, a Third, Fourth and Fifth grade teacher, a KOG teacher and a Title I reading and math teacher. No, I have not been brave enough to teach either Kindergarten or middle school.

Let me tell you a story of a time before coming to Kennewick.   It was 1985 and my husband, Dan and I had taken teaching jobs in Cleveland. Not Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland, TEXAS, a tiny town 40 miles northeast of Houston tucked in between swamps and the forest. Also, by the way, under about two feet of rain water as I speak.  This place was poor. We received small salaries and basic medical insurance, with no visual or dental benefits and by comparison to our students’ families, we were rich.

At the beginning of our fourth year there we were summoned into an assembly much like this one. However, instead of inspiring words from the superintendent, about how we could change the world we were told that our insurance coverage was to be slashed and we would have half as many sick days as in previous years.  That meant 5 days with no carry-over from previous years. Also, there was no family leave in those days, and no sick leave sharing.

This was a shock to us because I was eight months pregnant. Long story short, after a giving birth to my daughter Johanna, I paid half of my hospital coverage for my daughter’s birth and care, about $5,000 out of $10,000. But even worse, I had a full deduct for five of the six weeks of maternity leave. Because, you know, pregnancy is not a preexisting condition!

Fast forward to 1991.  My husband was working in Moses Lake and our son Kenton was born.  His birth involved a helicopter ride to Spokane and a long stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.  In contrast to Texas, out of $30,000 of expense, we paid about $1,000.  What was the difference? Dan was a member of the Moses Lake Education Association which had negotiated health benefits that covered things like (hmm) babies and maternity care  . Texas, in contrast, is a so-called “Right-to-Work” state which really means “right-to-have-a-job-with-no-rights-so-that-they-can-change-your-pay-and-benefits-anytime-it-strikes-their-fancy.” And forget due process if you and your administrator do not see eye to eye.

That was a long time ago; let’s bring it closer to home. Idaho has been in the news lately. In Idaho they are having a terrible time hiring enough teachers. KTVB out of Boise reports that school districts are trying “new tactics” to get more teachers into classrooms. As I read further in the article I came across this nugget: in Twin Falls “a teacher with 13 or more years of experience – who has a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree plus 36 additional college credits – made $37,689 last school year.” And, yes, Idaho is also a so-called Right-to-Work state.

Now, people might say that unions are only of value for pay and benefits, and others say that they are for those greedy teachers, and do not benefit students.  These people forget that our working conditions are the conditions for those tiny Kindergarteners.  They forget that Seattle threatened a strike to preserve recess for their students, and Pasco doubled down on their demand that they be provided with good curriculum for their students.

Demanding a living wage is not the opposite of being an altruistic person.  In fact, having a decent wage means that instead of holding down two jobs, teachers have time to think about tomorrow’s lessons, spend time with our kids at home, and contribute to the community through church and other service groups. You can take care of your health to live to teach another day because you have benefits.   I have known darn few teachers and other educational service providers who were not altruistic and who were not willing to go above and beyond for the children in their classes and to give back to their community.

At my urging, KEA’s slogan this year is “People Power.”  We do not possess wealth that can buy elections or influence, but we do have the power of our combined voices to make change.  Your voice can protect another person from bullying or injustice where you work.  You can contact people making decisions. You can advocate for the good working conditions you need to do your job. Through the KEA we have the collective power to change things for the better.

If we have People Power we can empower children through literacy, numeracy, a mastery of science and technology, and in all the arts and trades. We empower them as citizens to create that new world that we all need, that gets us up in the morning each day to do our best all over again.

But we cannot be complacent about having these union rights.  Teachers in Wisconsin will tell you that their rights were taken away astoundingly fast. Ohio teachers tell us that while they were griping about how snow days were handled, a toxic, anti-education governor was elected and their rights were gone.  Every one of us needs to pay attention and be vigilant.  Also, you need to know that if you get a mailer from the disingenuously named freedom foundation, it is mostly, if not all lies.

Is our new insurance coverage perfect? No.  Is everything perfect about your job?  Probably not.  But we can choose to work from our strength and our power as educators working together.   Now, let’s stand together and change the world.