May 20, 2021

The Importance of Unions

Savannah Lodge-Scharff AP Physics Teacher at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School

Growing up with my educator mom meant always being included in important conversations at the dinner table, even at a young age. Many of our conversations were centered around her 25 years of experience as a teacher, her passion for ensuring that her students received the best education possible, and especially her activism as a member of her teachers union. 

These conversations instilled in me the importance of union organizing, but there’s one story that sticks out in building my understanding. When I was growing up, I had really severe asthma—and still do. The inhalers that I used to treat my asthma were prohibitively expensive. Through bargaining, my mom ensured that inhalers were included in the union’s health insurance plan and that our out-of-pocket cost was only $1. I remember my mom’s passion in her efforts, but also how important it was that my family and so many others could afford life-saving medicines. And to me, that perfectly represents the power and necessity of unions. 

These experiences and conversations with my mom inspired me to not only become a teacher, but to be an advocate within my own union. Her influence is why I am running for executive board in the Boston Teachers Union—to make equity-based change—and why I see the PRO Act as an essential piece of legislation for unions in Massachusetts and across the country. 

Lately, labor unions have been the target of repeated attack, most recently as a result of the Janus Supreme Court decision which made paying union dues for collectively bargained contracts in the public sector optional, meaning that unions have to bargain on behalf of dues-paying members and folks who refuse to pay their part. These attacks have eroded union power everywhere. The PRO Act will protect teachers and all workers by removing barriers to joining unions and increasing protections for workers to participate in unions. 

And if it wasn’t evident before, the pandemic has made it crystal clear how important unions are in protecting educators. Historically, unions and the broader labor movement have improved access to healthcare, pensions, have improved pay, and lifted the dignity of educators and all workers. During the pandemic, unions have used negotiations to secure vaccine access, improvements to school buildings and cleanliness, and additional protections for teachers as they returned to the classroom. I see unions as mini-democracies that give educators a voice in decisions that affect their students and classrooms. In order to help ensure that these democracies are strong and healthy, we need to pass the PRO Act.

And after we secure the protections for strong unions included in the PRO Act, we also need teachers to make sure that the unions are delivering on their promise to teachers and students. As the main structure that holds power and influence at every level of education, I know that unions and our fellow teachers can be the driving force for social and racial justice. But these lofty goals are only possible if protections for unions are put in place. 

That’s why, now more than ever, we need a strong teachers’ union that is representative of the diverse viewpoints of the teachers it serves. We need unions that not only work to improve and diversify the teaching profession, but to fight to ensure our education system is anti-racist and better serves all students. Especially after a year where the pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated the inequities that have impacted our students, we need to seize the moment to ensure that all teachers have all of the tools available to make up for unfinished learning so that they can help their students achieve to their greatest potential. Strong unions can also ensure that these policies deliver on the equity that they promise for students.

Join me in telling your senator to prioritize the Pro Act.  And if you’re a voting member in the BTU community, I hope you’ll consider voting for me in the upcoming election. If elected to the BTU Executive Board, I will help keep my union accountable and ensure that we are making the changes that will allow all students to thrive. 

Savvy Lodge-Scharff

Savannah Lodge-Scharff