Silencing teachers

What would life be like if your union disappeared?

Consider the plight of Deyshia Hargrave, a 32-year-old middle school teacher in Louisiana. Her name might not ring a bell, but chances are you saw the video that made her famous.

At the Vermilion Parish School Board meeting in early January, Hargrave dared to question a $38,000 raise for the school superintendent, noting that teachers have not received a raise in 10 years. The school board president said she was speaking out of order and motioned for her to be removed. Suddenly a city marshal was at her side. Even though she complied and left the meeting, Hargrave was forced to the floor and handcuffed in the hallway and then forcibly led out of the building, arrested and jailed. Appalled members of the audience captured the rough treatment on video, and it went viral on the internet.

The school board, facing nationwide condemnation, has decided not to press charges against her. The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating, and Hargrave hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit against the board.

“By silencing my voice they’ve also taken away — or tried to take away — my First Amendment rights to speak,” Hargrave said in a video statement that was posted on the Facebook page of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

But the loss of other rights is also significant: Louisiana is a right-to-work state, and the fact that teachers have not received a raise in 10 years reflects the inequality inherent in that status. There’s a reason it’s regarded as “right-to-work for less.”

Hargrave, who was recognized as a Teacher of the Year by the state in 2016, is the kind of advocate you’d want on a tough-as-nails union negotiating committee. Teachers know a union makes their best work possible.

Without a union with the power and leverage to represent their interests, teachers like Hargrave are on their own. They’re small voices in the wilderness, risking everything for their right to be heard in an environment hostile to teachers and collective action.

We applaud Hargrave’s fearlessness in speaking truth to power. But what if no video existed of her mistreatment? Only a union gives you a chance to be heard — whether or not cameras are rolling.

User login
Enter the email address you used to sign up at UFT.org.
If you don't have a UFT.org profile, please sign up.
Forgot your password?