As the teacher of third graders and a father of a 3-year-old in the Bay Area, it amazes me how easily such young minds can grasp the notions of basic fairness, while in the adult world fairness drops by the wayside when corporate special interests seek an advantage. Nowhere is this more clear than with those who have brought us the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The American economy is out of balance. In San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country, growing inequality is threatening the stability of our communities and our schools. With parents working two and three jobs and under extreme pressure just to make ends meet, our schools become even more important in the lives of their children. But this growing inequality also impacts our educators, many of whom are being forced to choose between the students we serve and our very own children, leading to high turnover that further destabilizes our schools.
I am a proud member of United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers union for the city of San Francisco. On a daily basis, other union members and I join together to make our voices heard on issues that are important to our profession and our students. We join together to demand more funding for our schools, policies that help close the opportunity gaps for our most vulnerable students, affordable housing and higher wages for all San Franciscans, and, yes, wages and benefits that give teachers and paraprofessionals a fighting chance to live in the communities we serve.
The only way to do so is through a collective voice.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is poised to make teachers and other public servants’ plights even more difficult as basic fairness is in the crosshairs of the forces behind the Friedrichs v. CTA court case. This lawsuit is the latest tactic by the same wealthy special interests that have been attacking working people and seeking to undermine and defund our public schools for decades.
As a teacher in our public schools, I understand deeply the negative impact the Friedrichs case will have on my profession and on the quality of education we offer our students. But this isn’t just about schools. Over the last generation, union membership has declined. Not coincidentally, in that time, wages have stagnated and the gulf between the rich and poor has widened. This is exactly why someone who isn’t associated with a union should care about Friedrichs: Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a low tide can strand those boats, and workers rights and wages across the board will continue to decline — union or not.
The Friedrichs lawsuit is not only an attack on fairness, but one more threat to the American Dream, the very concept that through hard work and playing by the rules people can make a good life for themselves. One of the keys to protecting that dream is strength in numbers. Only together can working people ever hope to push back against the power and interests of groups like the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative group funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers and the driving force behind the Friedrichs lawsuit.
Making sure that everyone has access to the American Dream and a fair shot at the middle class is essential to this country’s future. It’s what I want not only for my own son, but for the students I teach and the communities to which they belong. The U.S. Supreme Court should reject this attempt by wealthy special interests in the Friedrichs case to make it even harder for working people to come together, speak up for one another, and get ahead. It is a basic concept of fairness that even a third grader can understand.
Aaron Hall teaches at San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.