Building Rep's Corner: How can I overcome apathy in my building?

Welcome to the Building Rep's Corner, an advice column for union leaders written by experienced PFT building representatives. If you have a question you'd like to ask, or would like to contribute a column, please email us at contact@workingeducators.org!

Dear Building Rep’s Corner: With all the other challenges in the school day, I have trouble motivating members in my building to get involved with union issues or events as well. What can I do?
Sincerely,
Apathetic in Philly
~ ~ ~
Patrick Sommer, Autistic Support Teacher and Building Rep, Greenfield Elementary

Dear Apathetic in Philly,

I do not know how much of an expert I am, but I will share my experiences with you. I'm entering in my 21st year of teaching and have witnessed staff interactions towards the building rep each year. I try to participate in as many pertinent activities as I can and encourage colleagues to do the same.

You will, most likely, face a lot of apathy. This is our biggest problem as a union. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE THE UNION?!  You will probably hear a lot of complaints, i.e.; "Why doesn't the union do this?  Why doesn't the union do that?  I wish that we could just..."  

Some people are so fed up that they do not even want to hear any details of what is going on or what they can do.  Some people say that they just wanted to vent, when they complain and I try to offer possible solutions or tactics that could lead to a solution down the line. Many feel powerless.

I tell people that I recognize that everyone can not partake in everything, but I find it hard to believe when people have an excuse at every turn to participate.  It's not that hard to get a good number of colleagues to do informational picketing before school starts (especially if there's coffee and donuts), but, as you've seen, it's hard to get people to canvass, phone bank, etc.

I try to share as much information as I can with our colleagues through email and face to face connections. I would say that talking to a colleague one to one, or even in a small group, such as those with the same lunch/prep time works better than the mass emails, but the emails are still important, especially for those that you've already been able to talk to one on one.  

One of the ways I was immediately able to build face to face connections with my colleagues was through informational picketing on Friday mornings before school in May and June 2013 and 2014.  I started out as the building rep in May 2013. This just happened to coincide with a informational picketing campaign initiated by the PFT in early around the same time. I asked colleagues at Greenfield to join me in conducting informational picketing EVERY Friday through the rest of the school year. Wendy Coleman did take note of Greenfield's extra informational picketing efforts from the onset.  Jerry Jordan even stopped by once in 2014 and 2015 (I'm sure Greenfield's proximity to the PFT office played a part in this, but, nonetheless, it was good for staff morale). In addition, some students and parents participated. 

It's still hard.  People are frustrated and scared.  With all positions being site selected and leveling being site selected (as principals simply need to write a "compelling reason"), people are afraid to be removed from their current position and forced to interview for a job for a position they were already interviewed for years ago.  Some people state that what they do doesn't matter and that the powers that be are going to do whatever they want to do anyway.  There are other reasons too, of course.  If someone is willing to talk things through with someone who is active, then there is a chance to change that person's perspective.

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