Pennsport: A Union Leader’s Voice Worth Hearing
Kathleen Kramer is a 5th grade teacher at Vare-Washington Elementary School and a union leader for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. She has been the Union Leader for six years and has many responsibilities, including informing staff of any union issues and keeping track of vision and dental forms.
What is the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers?
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which is the largest union in Philadelphia, has union reps in each school. So, if there is an issue in each school, before you take it downtown to the big union people, we try to resolve things in house. If it can’t be resolved in house, then we take it downtown.
What is your role as a union leader?
My responsibilities are just informing the staff of any union issues. I inform the staff of anything going on as far as the union.
I am also the keeper of the vision forms and the dental forms. If someone is written up for any reason and they need union representation, I go into that meeting to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. I make sure the principal isn’t bullying them, strong-arming them and threatening them in any way.
What is the toughest obstacle that you had to overcome?
Being a building rep can be a sticky situation because people don’t always like what you have to say. A lot of times, when people come to me, they will only tell me one side of the story. For example, ‘The principal wrote me up and I need to go to this meeting.’ But they don’t tell you that he wrote them up because they are late every single day, which is why they got written up.
It’s hard because you have to balance your coworkers/friends with sometimes being the devil’s advocate or the bearer of bad news. You have to be like, ‘Listen, you got written up because of the stuff you did.’
Then, the flip side of it is you put yourself out there because when there is something going on, I am usually the one going to the principal and saying, ‘Listen, this isn’t working for us.’ So you risk the chance of him having the repercussions against you and that has happened on occasions.
What is your dream job in any leadership position?
Leadership is tough, especially now with how the schools are. My dream job would be to be a principal but there would have to be many changes. It’s not like how it used to be, like how you went to school or how I went to school. There is a lot more pressure and a lot of stress.
I am happy right where I am with my leadership role and being in here with the kids.
What are the positives of being a union leader?
Part of it is that I am in the know. I am in the sight selection committee, so I get to know the teachers before they are hired. I get to know the process. I am on a lot more committees because PFT has to be represented on those committees so normally it’s me.
I kind of have my hands in things and kind of know what’s going on before it happens, which is nice so I am not blind-sided by things.
The principals who I have had have really tried hard to respect the PFT, so I have had good relationships there, which really helps with my teaching relationship. They get to see me in both aspects, which is good. That has been a positive.
Why did you choose to be a union leader?
Because we haven’t a contract for so long, a lot of the principals try to be underhanded about things. Like, there are certain rules and stuff about us covering and us having break time and stuff like that and a lot of the principals try to get away with that because, at this point, we don’t really have a leg to stand on. They needed a voice, and I have that voice.
-Text and images by Catherine Campana and Taylor Calta.