Teaching Through the Black and Blue

The Troy Education Association is working without a contract. Here’s what that means for Troy teachers.
Teaching Through the Black and Blue

Throughout history, workers have come together time and time again under unions to fight for fair wages, better benefits, safe working conditions and reasonable schedules. They’ve held strikes, walkouts, and picket lines when their requests are ignored or otherwise not put into place, all in an effort to have an agreeable work environment. Recently, the United Auto Workers went on strike while negotiating for a new contract with major automotive companies. Unfortunately, some are not offered the same opportunity. Public employees, including teachers, are not allowed to go on strike in Michigan. 

One affected union is the Troy Education Association, a union of teachers, guidance counselors and other eligible Troy School District employees. Joseph Verhelle, English teacher and Troy Education Association member, describes that members “pay monthly dues to the organization, and participate in union-wide activities.” He continues, describing that “as a member, the Troy Education Association agrees to represent me in the journey towards improved wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

Since the end of Jan. 2024, teachers within this union have been working without an active contract. This means that the contract they were previously working under has expired, leaving them without updated policies, procedures or pay until a new contract is negotiated. 

Without an active contract, teachers work under the previously negotiated circumstances until a new decision is reached. Certain parts of the contract may be outdated, whether that’s pay, procedure or other things crucial to everyday work. 

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History teacher Jessica Craft explains that the teachers are currently working “in crisis,” meaning without a contract. She shares that the January date was meant to be a deadline for a new contract to be signed into action. “We were hoping to have something negotiated before that. Unfortunately, that did not occur.”

Working “in crisis” doesn’t just affect overarching elements of the school year: it has everyday consequences, too. Verhelle explains, “Working in crisis is a perpetual reminder that so much of the work teachers do for their students is uncompensated and undervalued. As we seek a fair and equitable contract, I am unwilling to work outside of contractual hours as a club advisor, preparing lesson plans, or giving extensive feedback on essays.” He participates in these forms of protest to “[stand] up for what we deserve. A fair and equitable contract for teachers means a better education for our students.”

Concerns about the education students are receiving at this time might arise, but Verhelle ensures that nothing is changing in classrooms. “It is important to note that under an expired contract, teachers are working hard to provide an exceptional learning experience for all students. On the average work day, you are not going to see any change in the teaching practices implemented by teachers.”

The answer might seem clear: put an updated contract in place. This process isn’t simple, though. The Troy Education Association’s bargaining team and the Board of Education have to come to an agreement or compromise on all parts of the document before it can be signed. Unfortunately, they cannot discuss this process with outside parties at all. When asked to comment, the bargaining team stated that they are not legally allowed to speak publicly about it. 

That doesn’t mean those not involved in bargaining can’t discuss what they’re looking for in the new contract, though. Craft shares that her goal is to “have a contract that reflects our work and a pay increase.” She also wants it to “address our concerns with what’s going on in the world today, like making sure that we have protocols in place that we follow to make sure that we’re all safe.” 

More generally, she also wants “the teachers of Troy to see this contract and think ‘this district really appreciates my work.’” When it comes to teaching, she says, “We don’t make a lot of money and we do do a lot and we care about our kids. I want to just make sure that my work and my effort and my care is known and appreciated.”

Along with being a history teacher, Craft is also the leader of the Troy Education Association’s crisis team. Her position came about when the previous contract expired in late January. The team brainstorms and puts into action “what the teachers can do to bring attention to the fact that our contract is expired and that we’re working towards negotiating a new one.” These actions so far have included wearing black Troy Education Association shirts on Tuesdays, blue shirts on Thursdays and only working contractual time on those days. 

“Our contractual time starts at 7:10 and ends at 2:20,” Craft explains. On the days they’ve decided to only work their contractual time, teachers are only present in the building for that required time. “So you’ll see a group of us walking in together in the morning and out together in the afternoon.” This is just one way members of the Association demonstrate their frustration at the lack of a contract. 

The crisis team has also put plans into action for Association members to attend school board meetings “so that they are aware of our frustration.” Craft continues, “After that, who knows? We’re hoping that the contract gets settled before we have to do anything else.” 

Students are also showing their support for their teachers. Sophomore Olivia Wiseman and her friend made a TikTok account, @supporttroyteachers, aimed at supporting the teachers’ union while they work “in crisis.” They also aim to spread information about the situation among their peers who may not be aware of what’s going on. 

At the time of publication, the account has posted two videos and has amassed 50 followers on the app. “We noticed that our teacher was wearing blue and we asked why,” Wiseman says. “She told us about the teacher contract and we kept on asking her questions about it and we decided to make a TikTok account, made the videos and we’re planning on making more once we have more information.”

Other students are showing their support by participating in the colored shirt days: black on Tuesdays and blue on Thursdays. Craft suggests that students can also support their teachers by “going to board meetings or contacting your board member and just telling them how important teachers are, how maybe teachers have influenced them in their school experience.” She knows many students aren’t aware of what is going on, though, so she also encourages students to ask questions and get answers. 

Wiseman echoes the sentiment felt among much of the student body: “We care a lot about our teachers here and especially seeing how dedicated they are. We want to help because they work so hard for us, we want to work hard for them.” 

Follow @supporttroyteachers on TikTok and Instagram, wear black on Tuesdays and blue on Thursdays, raise awareness and attend board meetings to support the Troy Education Association.

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About the Contributor
Grace Haugk
Grace Haugk, Body Copy Editor
Grace Haugk, a senior, is excited to start their second year with The Chariot as a Body Copy Editor. They love the community here at the quaint little school newspaper and have written many articles with them, including "English: Rewritten", and "Under Attack: The Recent Transphobic Legislation in the U.S.". They joined the newspaper as a creative outlet for their writing, graphic design, and journalism interests. When they're not editing articles at 2 a.m., they're obsessing over Heartstopper, Red, White & Royal Blue, Taylor Swift and John Frank Stevens. Find them performing onstage or writing novels while burning all 15 candles they own at once.
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