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  • Writer's pictureTobias Kroll

Credit where credit is due

Turns out ASHA is working with unions

You may remember that in my previous post, I lambasted ASHA somewhat for being unresponsive to members' needs. And they were, in that particular listening session I was referring to. But there's always more.

I also said ASHA needs to reinvent itself as a union. Which they likely won't, for a variety of reasons. But as I just found out, the next-best thing - collaboration with unions on behalf of SLPs - is already happening! Here are some snippets from a Leader article that came out just last week.

The collaboration is the result of regional listening sessions with school-based speech-language pathologists, hosted by ASHA’s School Issues Advisory Board in October 2022. Attendees from across the country expressed concerns about the lack of representation and support from their teachers’ unions, and indicated they were often not included, represented, and/or supported by collective bargaining agreements related to compensation, working conditions, and caseload/workload management.
In January 2024, ASHA and NEA co-hosted a virtual town hall, “Partnering With Teacher Unions to Improve Working Conditions for Schools.” Panelists focused on strategies for working within teacher unions (...) to improve services for students by addressing challenges in working conditions, including compensation, workload responsibilities and demands, adequate workspace, and caseload management. (...)
The January 2024 event spurred conversations that continue on the ASHA Community microsite  "Engaging With Unions in Schools," which ASHA developed in response to members seeking strategies for engaging with unions.

And they go on to detailing some of the successes in getting higher pay that have come out of SLPs engaging with their unions. (No word about workloads or working conditions, though.)

So... what does this mean? Is clinicians' anger out of proportion, as ASHA sometimes seems to think? Is everything hunky-dory, after all, and all that's needed is a little more self-advocacy?

Not quite.

This fact does not invalidate clinicians' feeling of being uncared for in an unforgiving work environment. Note that the collaboration has started only recently, while the issues SLPs are upset about have been going on for years. It also involves more work for clinicians. Yes, ASHA has created an avenue for them to reach out to their union and get active - but as we have found in our own research, clinicians are already burned out by the constant need to advocate for themselves. Adding more advocacy work for them would just compound that.

And then, of course, there is the not-so-minor fact that unions' power has been substantially curbed in many places around the country. In Texas, where I am located, public employees - such as teachers and other educational staff, including clinicians - are literally prohibited from collective bargaining. Which eliminates the main reason to join a union or team up with one.

Thus, this doesn't let ASHA off the hook. They still need to do more for their members than they are currently doing. What it does mean is that any narrative in which ASHA is entirely unresponsive to members is false. ASHA is somewhat responsive and has achieved some wins for clinicians. It just doesn't seem enough in the face of overwhelming systemic burdens, or - at least in the eyes of many clinicians - to warrant the cost of membership.

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: I actually like having a national professional association. It's needed, I believe, to protect the profession and keep its integrity. But if it doesn't do that, if it fails to protect its working members of the ground, it loses its legitimacy. Let's not let that happen, ASHA.

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