I knew wouldn't be long before teachers would be asked to work for free again, but it was longer than I thought. Back in 2002, Portland Public School Teachers "offered" to work two weeks for free. The offer was part of a deal brokered by the teachers' union in order to settle contract negotiations. The other choice: teachers pay a portion of their health care premium. Teachers, who hated to see the Portland students suffer the legacy of missed days and a media frenzy that might feed a poor perception of the district in the eyes of college admissions officers and employers, conceded. For most teachers, volunteering extra time for the direct benefit of students is a consistent and welcome sacrifice; and the option was a lose-lose anyway, in compensation terms.
Th next contract negotiation brought employee contributions to health care anyway. It was delayed by a year, but it came nonetheless. In my nine-year teaching career with the Portland district, I can't think of any concessions teachers have won on the contract. We just receive a survey asking us to rank a number of things we could give up. At the time of the two weeks of free work, I tried to swallow my fear that this set precedent and just embrace the opportunity to pitch in and give back to my students, who at that time stood right beside us, demanding their right to a quality education.
But once you've worked for free, it inevitably becomes a cost-saving measure, and no one stands by worrying about a shortened school year, including students and parents. It is assumed that you'll do it, and if you don't want to, well there are plenty of other losses to threaten you with. So, here we are again, Governor Kulongoski has publicly requested that we work for free. And not just us, but now teachers in every district across the state of Oregon. He didn't stipulate the number of days, but I suppose this will depend on how serious the economic woes of your district really are.
Now, I have nothing against Kulongoski; I voted for him, twice. Heck, he's even going to work 4 days for free himself, effectively cutting his salary by 5%, according to The Oregonian (Does this mean that he works 80 days?) . Great! We'll only cut ours by 5.26% (we're paid for 190 days a year) if we go back to our old 10-day donation. No biggie, right?
But I don't need to get a calculator out to see if I can hack it, these days I live life on a strict budget. Why? Well since 2002, I was foolish enough to add 2 children to the house and reduce to a half-time schedule to spend a little time with them. With two teachers in our household, we have cut way back, maybe not to the absolute quick (I don't feed rely on ramen noodles as a primary staple), but we have established a budget, made new investments and expenditures, and even run up some credit debt in anticipation of a return to two full incomes and public schooling for our children, someday. Now, mid-year, will we need to figure out in short order how to squeeze an already tight wallet enough to produce a surplus of two weeks pay?
Since we aren't planning to default on our home or college loans, nor ditch our life insurance, or stop feeding our children, it won't be an easy choice. Maybe we can sell our remaining Blazer tickets, though it is the only time that we get out (usually one at a time) without kids, or we can stop contributing to our children's college funds (we're just losing money anyway), but still I can't figure out how we'll do it - it's not enough. And it isn't just two weeks of income, teachers with young children in daycare like ours need to consider the costs we will incur as we stride off to our new volunteer positions.
Since I'm in a position to really sweat this one (last time I was single and still got haircuts and drank an occasional latte), I can't help but wonder if we will get anything in return. Maybe a better discount for the books we buy at Borders, or a 2nd annual Teacher's Savings Day at Office Max? But as Gail Rasmussen of the OEA noted, even these generous returns on our investment won't really be used when our own shortfalls cause us to stop spending, thus ensuring we aren't the only ones hurt by this furlough. And as I ponder plausible solutions, I'm suddenly struck with a brilliant idea: What if everyone works 2 weeks for free?
Now before you start to feel violated (believe me teachers also have this nerve attack, the one you're having, at the suggestion of working for free), and start muttering about teachers' summers and other vacations, I must gently remind you that we are only paid for the days we actually work (though it is true that we can arrange to have pay taken out and paid to us during non-work periods); and also that teaching is a high turnover profession and we need more good teachers (and you too can take out student loans and become one). Now, if I haven't lost you, bear with me for just a while longer.
Let's start with the everyday expenses typically incurred during those weeks. Just think of how we might ALL benefit if the gas station staff works without pay, surely we can lower fuel prices while we all go off to our pro bono jobs. With fuel less, and Trimet drivers working for free, mass transit can drop fares in half, a good option for those of us who already sold our cars. Food prices would drop significantly with everyone in that industry working for nothing, health care would be at its most affordable, and we could waive a major percentage of all utility bills. Half-off sales at retailers would abound, and for those who had some savings, purchasing would inevitably rise. Now, isn't this sounding better already?
How about the loans and mortgages? Well, banks could drop interest rates for two weeks, especially after living so fat on my new reduced savings rates. Housing sales would go up, and overall optimism could reign again. In fact, maybe we could all learn to truly love our jobs in the absence of the infecting influence that money must have on our motivation, draining all the intrinsic and filling it with the empty satisfaction of the extrinsic.
Indeed, I think I have not only stumbled on a solution for myself, but the ultimate national stimulus! Just vote me, Owens, 2012.