Strikes Against Charters, Amateurism, Disinvestment and DeVos/Trump Agenda

New Orleans       Reporters and commentators don’t know what to make of the anger and activism of teachers who are flipping the red-state script and taking job actions, with and without their unions, to directly target governors and legislators in Oklahoma, North Carolina, West Virginia, and likely Arizona.

West Virginia teachers were out nine days until they won a full commitment from the governor and legislative leadership to fully fund increases for both teachers and state employees.  Oklahoma teachers saw their governor and legislature attempt to preempt their strike with a $6000 raise, but their demands were for $10,000 over several years, raises for school support workers, and huge investments in public schools that have been starved for funding for years.  North Carolina teachers took sick days to go to their legislators with their demands.  Arizona teachers are clearly organizing to be apart of this Teacher Spring offensive.

What’s in the water at the drinking fountains in public school hallways now?

Some of the credit must be given to Trump and the long rolling scandal of his misogyny.  More than 75% of the teaching force is composed of women, and this is a moment for women everywhere to step up and step out.  Teachers are professionals.  They are responsible for discipline and decorum in the classroom and often in the community as well.  Talk to any of them and you will find that regardless of political affiliation, they are offended by the tenor and tone of the national government.

They understand they work for the government, and they see that they have been abandoned by the government and the calls for shrinking public services and closing of the public purse.  They don’t have to go to Washington to join and lead the resistance, they can see the disinvestment in public education right at home and in the rhetoric of their own state legislators and their knee-jerk adherence to the charter and privatization of education over recent years and in the ideological ignorance of Betty DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary.  The West Virginia spark has started a prairie fire.

Congress in the new budget recently left DeVos stranded like a voice in her own wilderness.  She wanted to cut the budget by $9 billion.   They ignored her and added $2.5 billion.  She wanted to eviscerate the civil rights offices for schools, and they made such action dependent on Congressional action.  They slammed the door on her hands and did so without apology.

Teachers in Oklahoma may not win.  No strikes are guaranteed victory, but they do guarantee that everyone will feel the pain and that lines will be drawn.  Their demand for investment in more staffing and improved physical plants after years of disinvestment are going to stop the bleeding there.  They had won an $18 million down payment on improvements before they stopped work.  They will win more, and their action will prevent legislators from continuing to defund public schools in favor of choice, vouchers, and charters.

Always remember that teachers in statewide actions like these are in every legislators’ districts.  Public support flows from teachers to children to their parents and legislators are being forced to remember that now as teachers flood into their offices in state capital after state capital.

Strike to strike, who can gauge the results, but taken together state after state will start getting this message, so whatever happens this spring, the results will likely rebound to the good for public education and teachers for years to come.


Public Unions are Adjusting Their Strategies around Strikes and Checkoff

New Orleans    Public employee unions are trying to recalibrate to find a future, and there’s hope, no matter the naysayers.

Case in point of course has to be the success of the West Virginia teachers and their strike that continues to galvanize the labor movement and give courage and conviction to other unions elsewhere.  Their strike, as is well known now, not only won a 5% immediate raise in the face of a measly offer of 1% per year for several years from the negotiators and the tight-fisted state legislature, but also led to their successful demand to get the same raise for state employees in West Virginia.

Other teacher unions in states that have traditionally be very, very hard on their public employees have done their homework and studied the lessons overtime.  A teacher in Oklahoma started a Facebook page calling for a strike and picked up more than 70,000 members, quickly forcing the Oklahoma state legislature to pass the first tax hike in 28 years to offer an across the board increase of $6000.  Teacher unions are saying, that’s good, but not good enough.  30,000 are expected to rally in Oklahoma City to demand a $10,000 raise over two years to catchup.  Some Kentucky teachers waged a sickout as their demands increased.  North Carolina teachers are reportedly also debating a strike.  The message that far right, conservative, starve-the-government legislators may be starting to get is that they have gone too far and that not only are teachers and other public employees unwilling to take it, but increasingly they are confident that both their own members and the public supports their job actions.

Republicans are still hoping that the pending decision before the Supreme Court in Janus vs. AFSCME will cripple public employee unions in some of the large states that have allowed agency fee payments from nonmembers.  There are signs that unions are making headway in converting agency fee payers to members and in other states where payroll deductions for any and all public employees are threatened, they are increasingly converting to other means of dues payments.  Many unions are carefully examining the program of Unite, the largest union in the United Kingdom, and it’s 100% campaign which has enrolled almost 100,000 members in recent years.  Talking to a key organizing department official recently from a US-based union, I was told one of the central lessons being learned was to start with your best units to achieve these results in order to set the pattern for your underperforming branches.

Unions working in California, New York, and other states allowing agency-fee payments are not sitting on their hands and crying in their beer.  Many are reporting success in transferring fee payers to members at relatively high levels.  In other states like Texas, where checkoff is threatened, unions have been able to move between 15% to over 50% of their members to alternative payment systems even though losing checkoff may be more than a year away.  Some unions have adopted the strategy of some UK and EU unions of only signing people up on standing orders or bank drafts and avoiding payroll deductions entirely.

There will be pain in the transition, but hard work and renewed activism may allow the labor movement to emerge stronger in the future than our current weakness has lead opponents to expect.  A critical insight for many unions may be one my friend argued when she said that her union had made the decision that it was no longer worth spending time and money fighting for dues programs rather than core membership issues.  In fact, fighting harder on the real issues for workers will likely lead to a surge in membership.  Anti-union forces may learn that they should have been more careful about what they hoped for, as workers wake up the sleeping giants within their own organizations.