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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Do Teaching Unions do more harm than good in Japan?

by Kevin Burns

As a young man and being rather left wing, I scoffed at the suggestion that unions were not all good. My father pointed out how they can try to intimidate employees to get their way.

Being young and inexperienced, I refused to believe him, but it seems to be true. In spite of the hype, unions are not always good for you and don`t always do what`s best for you. Even if they think they do.

Some unions are great and represent their members well. Others are not.

"One of the reasons I enjoy teaching at my English school is because of the stress-free environment. But that relaxed feeling has recently changed. This has occurred not because of the students, the management, the company or the location. Surprisingly, the dissent among instructors is due to the new teachers union, which has created a hostile workplace. And as if erecting barriers between coworkers isn`t enough, the union is damaging the entire English-teaching profession here in Japan."

--Joseph Barker, is an English teacher in Japan

Originally published in Metropolis Magazine

Wow! Strong words from Joseph Barker (a pseudonym). I have never had problems with unions myself. In my case, when I have been a member, I think on the whole I was represented well. I sympathize with unions on the whole, being rather left in bent, but I also have come to sympathize with managers, having been one myself now for nearly 20 years. I think if you are working for a company that is not fair, having a teaching union available to back you up in case of a grievance, is a great asset.

However, you need to ask yourself if the union works for your best interest. Every school is different. Some employers are very good--very fair. If your employer is one of the kind ones, is it worth it to join a union?

Can there be potential problems as alluded to in the above quote? Unions can sometimes lead you astray.

Sometimes what unions do in the spirit of improving the situation of the employee, ends up backfiring and hurting the teachers, as the actions of the union, incur unimagined consequences.

"I don`t understand how unions can say that they are fighting for all teachers` rights while encouraging union members to bully non-union workers."--Joseph Barker again, in Metropolis Magazine

The above is what my father was warning me about. He had been a member of a union while working in an airplane factory. Unions often feel they know best, which doesn`t necessarily agree with how you feel about things.

"Our union representative posted a bulletin in our teachers`room stating that instructors who covered a striking teacher`s shift were betraying their family, their country, and even their God. The newsletter compared so-called "scabs" with Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus."

--Joseph Barker, in Metropolis Magazine

Indeed some unions can be just as bad or worse than undesirable employers. Unions the world over have gone to extremes for their cause.

And is it your cause though? You need to answer that for yourself. If it is, then join the union.

In certain instances, I would think joining a union would be a great idea. But you need to decide for yourself.

A good union should never bully you to join it. It should have the integrity and respect of the employees, and workers join because of that respect for the well earned reputation.

So refuse to be bullied. But decide for yourself.