NEA members, students and other school employees have the right to a safe and healthy school environment. While the responsibility of providing a safe and healthy school environment falls mainly on the school district or other employer, NEA local associations can play a key role in ensuring this environment for students and staff. Health and safety concerns are an ideal organizing issue for a local association because:
- Health and safety issues affect almost everyone
- Poor health and safety is a key reason why school staff are unhappy
- Action leads to good outcomes for the local association, including good visibility from better working conditions, credibility, leadership development and member satisfaction
Organizing is mobilizing members to exercise collective power to achieve mutual goals. By doing so, members hope to achieve beneficial changes for themselves and their organization. This is done through the deliberate decision to challenge power with collective action.
Benefits of Organizing
There are many benefits of organizing. In the short term, organizing provides a tool to address everyday problems, can help ensure job protection/security, provide access to healthcare, facilitate coalition building and improve working conditions.
In the long term, organizing provides immediate protection for concerted activity, fosters the ability for people to learn about themselves and fully use their skills and abilities, provides an opportunity to re-discover the history of struggle and resistance, and allows for individuals to re-learn the skills of cooperation, collective action and support of one another. To learn more about organizing and the different types of organizing, contact your state association or UniServ director.
The following organizing strategies can help a local association successfully organize around a health and safety issue. Please note that when first faced with a health and safety problem, you should contact your building or association representative, local president or your UniServ director to inform them of your concerns. Getting other members and the local association to support the issue is a crucial step in beginning the resolution process.
It is also important to talk to other colleagues in your school to determine if they have similar health and safety concerns. Doing so can help you find others who may be experiencing the same or similar problems that need to be addressed. Don’t forget to talk to the school nurse (if one exists) to see if he/she has noticed student health or absenteeism trends that could be related to the problem.
Health and Safety Committees
Health and safety committees are the most important tool NEA members have to correct work related problems or issues at your school. The committee focuses on health and safety issues to ensure that they are being identified, prevented or resolved.
Health and Hazard Surveys
While human nature tells us when something is making us sick, and common sense can help identify hazards, gathering evidence that will convince school management that the problems are real is almost always necessary. The best way to collect information is surveys, interviews and formal observations.
Conducting school walkthroughs will help you assess and pinpoint areas where building conditions and hazards might be causing adverse health effects or comfort issues. Like administering health and hazard surveys, this strategy will assist you in gathering the data that is needed to convince school management that problems exist.
Become the Educated Advocate
Becoming the educated advocate is an important organizing strategy when trying to identify, prevent or resolve health and safety issues. It is important that the local association health and safety committee, joint labor-management committee, or other health or wellness committee explore legal options and remedies, and arm themselves with information that may already exist.
Once health and safety issues are identified, it is important that the local association health and safety committee or the joint labor-management committee assess the findings, prioritize concerns and recommend solutions and preventative measures to the school district.