"Unions Represent the Voice of the People"

Facing a full Congressional hearing panel, in front of a packed house, Ohio teacher Courtney Johnson took a seat Tuesday and methodically laid out how attacks on workers’ rights and cuts to education will affect her students.

“Ever deepening cuts to our public schools send the dual messages to our kids that, one, it is not a priority that they get educated; and two, that we have given up on finding better solutions to our problems,” Johnson told the 23 members of Congress. “Many of us are not willing to send those messages, and I know that we are not alone. Just watch the news and you will see Americans are not ready to give up on our kids.”

Ohio teacher Courtney Johnson testifies in front of the House Democratic Outreach and Steering Committee. Credit: NEA/Patrick Ryan

Clad in red as part of the national Wear Red for Public Ed on Tuesday movement, Johnson spoke eloquently and passionately about how teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. The English teacher at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School in Columbus, Ohio, is a member of the Ohio Education Association.

She spoke at a hearing called by the House Democratic Outreach and Steering Committee, which focused on the recent surge of attacks on workers’ rights across the country. Johnson joined three expert panelists and four other public employees from Ohio and Wisconsin, all testifying about how legislation such as Ohio Senate Bill 5 and attacks on collective bargaining will hurt the economy and public education in the long run.

Ohio’s bill came on the heels of what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker started in his state when he introduced a so-called “budget repair bill” eliminating collective bargaining for public employees. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is pushing to pass Senate Bill 5, slashing collective bargaining for benefits for all public employees.

Although the legislation would permit union negotiations for wages, hours and working conditions, it would ban and eliminate binding arbitration and prohibit employees from going on strike.

Throughout her speech, Johnson cited numerous examples of how collective bargaining means more than salary and benefits to teachers; it allows students to have a voice in issues such as class size and standardized testing.

Johnson spoke of how without collective bargaining, students will be subjected to “drill and kill” preparation for standardized testing where her students will pass a test but, their creative thinking will diminish.

“Unions don’t protect bad teachers; they protect the agreement between teachers and administrators,” she said. “Unions protect the framework for problem solving, and represent the voice of the people, not big-government corporate interests.”