Pauline Gallagher was my oldest daughter’s fourth grade teacher at Kennesaw Elementary. A single lady, she was, in her own words, “married to the schoolhouse.” Her actions indicated as much. Untiring and relentless, she poured her life into teaching children.
Pauline re-located to Georgia from a union state because she wanted to teach in a right-to-work state, that is, one in which you cannot be required to join a union in order to teach.
One reason Pauline didn’t like her union’s contract was that it forbade her to work with her students during her lunch hour. She claimed that any benefit she received from union membership was negated by the restrictions it placed on her daily work as a teacher. She believed her union subordinated the needs of her school children to the aims of the union. For reasons of principle, she moved from New York to Georgia to teach.
Just before meeting Pauline at a parent-teacher conference and learning of her stance on public sector unions, I had made the decision to drop my membership from the Georgia Association of Educators; otherwise, a new policy would have required me to also join its parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA had begun to take positions on peripheral social issues which had nothing to do with teaching school subjects and with which I could not agree. For all practical purposes, NEA had already become a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party.
From conversations with Pauline, I learned that she had already joined a new, non-union Georgia teacher’s organization (the Professional Association of Georgia Educators) that was not aligned with NEA. She convinced me to join this organization, which at the time had fewer than 100 members. The odds against its success were gigantic. NEA and its local affiliates were rich, powerful, and politically connected. Even so, at the urging of this “Yankee Woman,” as I called her, she and I became pioneers for a summer. On our own dime we toured northwest Georgia, stopping at local school district offices, leaving literature and informing administrators and teachers of a new professional option.
Whenever I grew discouraged from the grip that NEA had on Georgia teachers, Pauline merely doubled her enthusiasm.
Specifically, our argument to anyone who would listen was that any negotiations carried on between public employees (in this case, teachers) and their employers are false because the actual employers are the taxpaying public, not the publically elected officials who are sitting across the negotiating table.
When public employees sit down to negotiate, they bargain with such entities as mayors, city managers, county commissioners, school board members, etc., all of whom are public employees as well. This type of situation creates a false picture.
Unlike private-sector negotiation where both management and labor must be pragmatic enough for profits and jobs to continue, public-sector negotiations pit union members against politicians who often owe their position and power to the union members with whom they are negotiating. Hence the politician can give away the store, expect to receive union support during the next election, and hand the bill over to taxpayers.
Like the young Wisconsin governor who is fighting this false, corruptible and corrupting system, my “Yankee Woman” friend saw through it. Finding refuge in a right-to-work state, she chose to leave that system.
At that time, Georgia’s legislature was in total Democratic control, and the state’s NEA affiliate was an effective lobby. Even though Georgia was a right-to-work state, Pauline and I feared what could happen. And when President Jimmy Carter created the federal Department of Education to reward the NEA for its support, Pauline Gallagher got real serious.
I’m glad she did. Today PAGE is Georgia’s largest teacher organization, an effective, non-union association, 85,000 members strong. Today Pauline Gallagher can take heart that Govs. Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and John Kasich of Ohio are acknowledging and fighting what she was fighting when they were in their youth. Today she can revel in the fact that the Democratic governor of the state she left to escape forced unionism — New York — is also seeing the light and is sounding like a Republican on this very important issue.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.