Community Decisions: The Interests of a Union

This article was written by sophomore Hughes Gilbert. It is a part of a series about moral dilemmas members of our community have gone through.


When given the choice between freedom for yourself and a kid’s education, which do you choose? In 1968 Betty Wright boycotted the school she taught at, along with the mandates of her union. While she and the teachers would be getting freedom during this protest, it did mean that the children could not receive education. She had to decide between the children and the union. The question was, would Betty obey the union even though it meant that she couldn’t educate the kids or would she disobey the union for the children and face possible repercussions. 



Betty Wright was a NYC school teacher in 1968 and she was a strong supporter of the teacher unions. In 1968 many teachers in the NYC school system went on strike. A teachers union is an “organization that negotiates on behalf of all of the workers in a particular field or in a particular organization. That became a very strong movement in the 20th century.” 



In 1968 when the community wanted control over the school, many teachers’ unions protested in a boycott of the school, to protect their members. While this meant that the teachers were protected, this did mean that many students were temporarily out of an education.


At first it seemed that the only options were to disobey the union and keep teaching the kids without the union supporting them or follow the union even though the kids may be temporarily uneducated.


Betty Wright found another option though, “[She] arranged with a little church to use their basement every day to have school and she did her class. All the students came to that location instead of to the school.” This allowed her to simultaneously support the children and the union. This did not go against the values and mandates of the union because she was not teaching for the school and she was not being paid for it. Unfortunately not every kid was able to attend these meetings.


Currently, Unions are working with the Vermont Government to keep teachers pensions. When you become a teacher you are promised to be paid a certain amount of money from the Government when you retire. This is called a pension. 


Kate McCann is a math teacher at U32 high school and she is part of a teachers union. Over the course of the 2021-22 academic year, she has been working on a government board with others as a representative of the “Laborers”. 



When asked about Betty’s decision, Kate responded with, “Local associations follow the advice of the state affiliate to the national union. 1964 [1968] was a long time ago…and I’m sure if the union took such drastic measures that it was warranted. Whenever unions take action, they consider the students so I’m not surprised that teachers like the one interviewed took care of her students too.”


Kate is still working for the government to try to get the pensions back to teachers and other Vermont laborers. In the end, they both did what they felt they had to do. To weigh the interest of the students and their education and their interests in the union. 


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