Kim Lewin loves working with kindergartners as a librarian.
“I think I have the best job,” she said.
In Kim’s district, all the kindergartners are sent to one building, so she is able to focus on helping these budding scholars develop a love of reading. She has taught now for 20 years, starting in Maryland, and then moving to Oxford, Pennsylvania so she could be closer to family.
While Kim loves her job, she did not love how political and divided her union in Pennsylvania felt. Leadership in the local union switched back and forth between high school and elementary teachers, who had different ideas about what teachers needed based on their experiences in the classroom. The contract for Kim’s district, and decisions about how to manage the pandemic, reflected who was in leadership at the time, instead of reflecting the needs of all school staff.
The divide in the union led to unequal treatment during the pandemic—high school teachers were told they would teach from home, while elementary school teachers taught in the classroom and were expected to teach children who were remote. That meant some teachers had to pay for childcare and gas, while others did not.
Kim decided to get involved on the union’s pandemic committee as a way to try to bring attention to the concerns of elementary school staff. It didn’t help.
“The leadership of the union didn’t recognize that dividing us this way was unfair,” she said. “But the more I got involved, the more frustrated I got. They didn’t want to listen to what we had to say.”
Another thing that pushed Kim away from the union was how much of her money went to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the National Education Association (NEA) instead of staying with the local union, and by how much the NEA and PSEA were politically motivated.
“Voting is ultimately a private choice,” she said. “I don’t want to do letter writing campaigns for the preferred candidate of the union. I don’t want my job dictating who I vote for.”
Kim’s frustrations led her to decide to leave the union. While she was initially concerned about how to maintain insurance coverage after resigning her union membership, she learned about alternatives through American Association of Educators (AAE) and the Keystone Teachers Association (KEYTA), which provide educators with insurance options at a fraction of the cost of union dues.
While initially concerned some of her co-workers might question her about her decision, she didn’t receive any push-back.
“I had a very clean break,” she said.