Today’s Topeka Capital Journal editorial got me to thinking about the role of a union in my life and the union activities of my ancestors.
Both my grandfather, Leon Crawford, and great-grandfather, Judson Crawford, worked for the railroad – for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad. I don’t remember my grandfather talking about union activities but he was a lifelong member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
My father, Eugene Crawford, went into teaching instead of joining his father at the railroad yards. However, my father did follow his father’s footsteps when it came to professional involvement. As a young teacher in Dodge City, he attended the Garden City section of the Kansas State Teachers Association and was elected as a delegate to the state assembly. (“Agree Convention, Hunting Don’t Mix,” Garden City Telegram (Garden City, Kansas), 7 Nov 1958, Newspapers.com)
As my science teaching methods teacher, I’m sure my father encouraged my to be active in my profession. However, it was his example that led me to not only join but participate in KNEA (Kansas National Education Association) and the professional organizations associated with my teaching assignment.
It was even his car and gasoline that allowed us to attend the regional conventions of the National Science Teachers Association during those early years of our career. Education has mad big strides from those early years when there wasn’t any form of reimbursement for attending professional conferences. Whether it was the annual KATS (Kansas Association of Teachers of Science) Kamp at Rock Springs or regional and national meetings, the cost of registration, lodging, meals and transportation were the responsibility of the teacher. Not only did teachers have to pay for everything, they had us use precious personal leave or take leave without pay to attend. For us, the addition of professional leave was a major victory in the contract negotiations. The bonus came a year or two later when reimbursement for some of the expense was granted.
In those years, I called KNEA a professional organization because it fought for my professional rights. I never really considered it a union until more recently. Besides working to grant teachers the ability to be active professionally, the local association worked to broaden definitions of sick leave. One of the first steps in this process was to allow a teacher to use his/her sick leave to be with a family member during an illness. Prior to that change, teachers had to use their personal leave (that’s why it was so precious) or be docked pay to stay home with a sick child or be at the hospital bed of a child, sibling or parent. The next step was to allow sick leave to be used for funerals of immediate family members.
The changes in the definition of sick leave and the recognition of the needs for professional leave and reimbursement were the contract items most important to me. However, over the years, NVTA (Nemaha Valley Teachers Association) worked hard for other changes that affected the work day. These changes included a 25 minute duty-free lunch period and time set aside daily for preparation and planning. (USD 115 2016-2017 Negotiated Agreement)
On this Labor Day, I’m thankful for all of those that have gone before me — working for working conditions and benefits that are now taken for granted.