I am a professional. I was trained as a scientist and engineer. I served both in research and production. As technical consultant I guided others in the art of papermaking. I then subjected myself to further train to become certified as a teacher. I taught high school for 7 years. Three things differentiated me, as a professional, from those who simply work for wages. (1) I subjected myself to training that enabled me to become highly skilled, and while practicing my profession, I strove to hone those skills to a sharp edge. (2) Though I was paid for my work, the focus of my professional activities was to serve my clients. (3) Professionals hold to high standards of ethics and performance.
As a scientist, my clients were the ultimate customers who would use the products I developed and the factory workers who could work more efficiently because of equipment I helped to develop. As an engineer, my clients were the workers and managers who depended on the paper machine and related systems to work efficiently. As a consultant, my clients were those who desired to upgrade their factories. Most importantly, as a teacher, my clients were the students in my classroom, the future of America.
Yes, I have worked for wages doing nonprofessional activities. I did not consider myself a professional on those occasions. I was being paid primarily for the sweat of my brow. I contributed to the profitability of my employer, to the economy and to the good of the customer, but not because I was particularly highly skilled nor particularly dedicated. I was proud of what I did, but I was not a professional.
The training a professional gets has been subsidized either by family, government, contributors to scholarship funds or by other benefactors. The training has been given by seasoned professionals, who usually could be earning more income doing some other activity. Society has put a great investment into professionals. My opinion is that a professional is obligated not to waste this investment, but rather to multiply this investment by serving the clients.
In the current economic situation, we have government leaders who are having to make difficult economic decisions. In response, unions are objecting to such things as pay and benefit cuts. Such are reasonable objections. I did not like it either when the president of the company for which I worked announced a 10% pay cut, but I showed up the next day for work.
The crisis is not being caused by pay cuts or proposed bargaining rule changes. The immediate crisis is the result of professional behavior. Professionals have the right and often even the responsibility to make their objections known, but through the proper avenues of discussion, not through disobedience.
The 40% of the Madison, Wisconsin teachers who called in sick were not only in violation of their professional contracts with the school board, but were in violation of the MORAL contract they have to teach their students. Teaching is a demanding occupation, but also a high calling. Those of us with the patience and the skills to teach are called upon to impart knowledge to the students and to help mold them for the future. Argue and demonstrate when school is not in session, but first make sure the students are served. Furthermore, what kind of lesson are they teaching to their students when they behave in a nonprofessional way? These teachers are certainly not acting professionally.
I presume the higher level union leaders consider themselves to be professionals. One way or another they have acquired leadership skills and knowledge of labor law. They have contractual and ethical obligations to their membership, to the employers and to the customers, in this case the students. We frequently hear educators justify requests for funding, for training, for equipment and for buildings by saying, “It’s for the children.” While the union leader’s focus may be on the members, his or her ultimate concern should be the quality of education. Their leadership of the teacher’s union should be, “. . . For the children.” Likewise, the union has entered into legal contracts with the employers. The union leadership had legal and moral responsibilities to see that those contracts are enforced. When I taught school, the union and personal contracts committed me to provide 184 days of service per school year. A union leader who permits or even encourages a “sickout” is breaking the contract. By rights, the union leaders should be on the capitol grounds with metaphorical whips driving teachers back to their classrooms.
Now about the legislators. I hope our elected officials are professionals. They should be highly skilled at leadership and law. They should be dedicated to serving their constituents. They should hold up high standards. The legislator’s job is to be on the floor of the assembly debating and voting on the issues. A legislator holding a minority view is obligated to object and try to persuade others to change their vote. He or she is obligated to vote what is best for his constituents, but he or she needs to be there to vote. In a republic, law and policy are to be decided by majority vote of the representatives. When a legislator boycotts the session for the express purpose of denying a quorum, he or she is subverting the will of the majority. If I still lived in Wisconsin and my legislator was among those boycotting the session, I would fire him or her. Yes, at the next election I would work to have them defeated.
If a junta of 20 ranking army officers were to take over the government by force and start dictating law and policy, we would be outraged. Our country is supposed to be run by the will of the majority. Those 20 legislators admit they no not have a majority of votes to kill the legislation they oppose, yet they have the audacity to control the legislature by force of parliamentary manipulation. That is not democracy.
I call on professionals to act professionally. That means serve the clients first. Let us argue, debate and protest later, but not at the expense of the client. This is particularly the case in education and medicine.
Unions are a necessary part of our society and serve important functions, but many unions have lost their vision. They are encouraging greed. They are demanding concessions from the employer without providing any benefit to the employer. I have seen situations where the unions have harmed the employer, eventually leading to layoffs and/or plant closures. We need professionals in union leadership who will work to better their members’ lot by strengthening their industry. We need professionals in union leadership who will make sure the members observe the obligations they have under their contract.
Most of all, we need professionals in our government, not just politicians. It is time we started to vote for or against candidates on the basis of qualifications, platform and ethics.
It is time for professionals of all types to act professionally.