Commentary: UTLA needs online voting for a wider union voice
Guest contributor | April 30, 2014
By Linda Yaron
A vote for online voting next month might be the most important decision UTLA members make as a union. It has the potential to systemically increase teacher participation at a foundational level of our union and make it far easier for all members to have a voice.
As a 10-year teacher in LAUSD, I’ve seen, and have experienced, various levels of participation in the union. Though some teachers are engaged in union processes, many are not. Teacher and online voting proponent Marisa Crabtree states, “The majority of the union is disengaged from the voting process. This is disconcerting when the union leadership is directly responsible for decisions that directly affect our workplace.”
At the very basic level, voting itself can be a transformative tool to leverage the union as a vehicle to improve student learning and teaching conditions. Yet, in the 2011 leadership elections, only about 10,000 teachers voted — less than a third of our members. In both rounds of voting in this year’s elections, barely a quarter of our members cast ballots as they elected Alex Caputo-Pearl the next president.
If we are to truly have a union that represents the voices and needs of teachers and the students we teach, we must both examine the causes of low participation and take steps to make it easier for our busy and overworked teachers to have a voice. The first step is to make it easier for teachers to vote.
Over 100 union locals across professions, including the California Teachers Association and Hawaii State Teachers Association, have already modernized their voting process. It’s time UTLA does the same.
The current system of mailing in paper ballots is outdated, environmentally irresponsible, time intensive and costly. On a structural level, shifting to online voting has the potential to free up time of union chairs to work on issues fundamental to teaching and learning conditions, rather than spend precious time and energy on election logistics.
This is not to say that shifting to an online system will be a simple process. There will be needed implementation start-up costs and transition processes. If online voting is approved, our union would then select an online vendor, train chapter chairs to support their members, and survey and assess effectiveness of the new system to ensure usability and ease. Yet, it is an investment that has the potential to truly transform and increase participation in our union.
To continue a system of paper ballots means that we are, by default, continuing to ignore the voices of our teachers. Online voting is not the silver bullet for increasing union participation, but it’s a start. And a powerful start that can truly help our union be more responsible for the teachers it represents.
It comes down to the same question we invariably struggle with in education: do we continue doing something that clearly isn’t working, or do we invest in a new solution? It will take a leap of faith. It will take a period of implementation. In the long run, it will mean that our teachers will have more of a voice in our profession and our union will more clearly reflect and represent those it serves. I know what I’m voting for.
Linda Yaron is a 12th grade English at the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities, a UTLA Chapter Chair and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.