By Tina Adams
My name is Tina Adams, and I am a school lunch lady in Mansfield, Ohio. Every school day for the past 30 years, I have cooked healthy meals and nutritious treats to feed hundreds of hungry kids. For many of my students, my food is the only food they eat all day. I keep my students’ bellies full so teachers can feed their minds.
I know if my kids are hungry, they aren’t learning. I also know who is eating his vegetables, and which kids need to watch their sugar because of diabetes or other dietary restrictions. From the time the bell rings in the morning to when school lets out in the afternoon, I’m the mom. I care for these kids like my own—and all I want is for them to be happy, healthy and ready to learn.
After more than three decades, my salary is little more than $20,000 a year. At times, I have had to work two, even three jobs, just to make ends meet. In fact, I earn so little money that my family falls under the federal poverty level and, ironically, we qualify for food stamps.
Earlier this year, our school district declared a fiscal emergency and, as a result, the administration closed down a neighborhood school, forcing more than 220 students to bus to other schools and laying off 107 teachers and support professionals, including me. Even while I wait to be recalled back to my students, I am continuing to pay my union membership dues because I know—and I see—how important it is for all educators to have a collective voice to speak up for our students.
In fact, the state legislature here in Ohio has tried—and failed—to strip public workers like me of our collective bargaining rights. When that didn’t work, the legislature tried to kill our unions by introducing laws with names like “Right to Work.” That’s like calling bologna an artisan meat. We can see beyond their fancy, misleading labels, and we know their motives: They want to weaken our unions so they can cut wages and slash benefits to feed their own bottom lines, even if it hurts our children and communities.
You don’t have to look far to see what happens when states outlaw fair share fees in an effort to weaken unions. The results have been lower wages and worse benefits for working people. In states without full union rights, the average worker makes $1,500 less per year, and workers are much less likely to have health insurance—let alone other benefits that help them support their families.
We need to rebuild the American Dream and our middle class, but there is a Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that hopes to dismantle it. The Friedrichs case, which will be heard by the Court next year, threatens to make it even harder for working people to negotiate for wages, benefits and public services. I have dedicated my whole life to helping my community, to feeding our children and helping them thrive in school, yet that won’t matter if the corporate special interests—who are pushing and bankrolling this case—are successful in convincing the Court. Friedrichs will make it even more difficult for workers to sustain their families, and that’s the goal of these wealthy CEOs who want to continue shifting the balance in their favor.
Like the foods that are bad for you, Friedrichs needs a warning label because if the U.S. Supreme Court decides against fair share fees, I won’t be able to help my students get what they need to succeed—and that’s just wrong.