America has long had great faith in education and little in teachers. From Horace Mann to the GI Bill of Rights, America has long been on the forefront of education for everyone. But attitudes towards teachers are more mixed, especially with for-profit companies claiming that they can do a better job (and making campaign contributions to underline their message). This attitude has translated into public policy, and teachers' salaries and benefits have eroded over the past two decades.
The situation is especially bad in anti-union states, that is, states where unions are particularly unpopular and where politicians have erected many legal obstacles to organizing and maintaining labor unions.
But now we are seeing something we haven't seen for a long time...
UFF invites everyone invited to a Spring Social tomorrow, Friday, April 20, starting at 11:30 am, on USF Tampa, in the Marshall Student Center's Sabal Room. The Sabal Room is on the third floor, on the right and around the corner from Top of the Palms. Come talk to union bigwigs about the reorganizing USF and UFF (both thanks to the Legislature), collective bargaining, and union organizing; lunch at Top of the Palms is on us.
Come meet union bigwigs and ask job questions. Come meet colleagues and share war stories. Come and check us out.
Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or litigation); special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. Come and join the movement.
If you have been the victim of a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you have thirty days from the time you knew or should have known of the violation to file a grievance. If you are, and at the time of the violation were, a dues-paying member of the United Faculty of Florida, you have the right to union representation. To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, go to the online contact form. For more information, see our web-page on grievances; see also the main article (left).
Visit the United Faculty of Florida at USF Facebook page. This page is a place where UFF members can exchange thoughts and ideas. The page is "public", but only dues-paying UFF members are eligible to post items on the page. If you are a UFF member, ask to join on the page, or contact the Communications Committee. The Committee will invite every UFF member that asks to join. So check us out. UFF members are welcome to join, and non-members are welcome to look.
On February 22, teachers in West Virginia walked out over low pay and a detrimental change in health insurance coverage. It was not a strike called by a union, like the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) (which, like UFF's own Florida Education Association, is affiliated with the National Education Association), which is why it was called a wildcat strike, i.e. a strike not sanctioned by their union. The strike left both unions (plural) and state politicians scrambling. The rabidly anti-union statehouse made a few immediate concessions, inspiring the pro-labor periodical In These Times to argue West Virginia Teachers Are Now Out on a Wildcat Strike. The Labor Movement Should Follow Their Lead.
Follow, the unions (and union-like organizations) did. On April 2, the union-like Oklahoma Teachers' Association (OTA) called for a walkout over salaries, which Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin compared to "a teenager wanting a better car." Nonetheless, the teachers got a salary increase, but not the increase many teachers wanted. The OTA is not a union and some unhappy teachers continued the walkouts.
Then Kentucky teachers staged a sickout over changes in their retirement programs. Like many states, public employees may not strike in Kentucky, but the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association, supported the sickout. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said, "I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them," but the Legislature vetoed the changes.
And in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey has agreed to a 20 % raise in response to protests and walk-ins organized by an Arizona Educators United organization. The NEA affiliate, the Arizona Education Association, had criticized Ducey last fall for giving his staff a 20 % raise but teachers only a 1 % bonus, and had joined the AEU in pressing for the raise.
Two things about this.
First of all, little of this should be surprising. According to market theory, if the conditions of employment for a particular job deteriorate, then many employees will leave while recruitment suffers. Since the 2008 crash, public education funding has dramatically declined in many states (thus reducing salaries and cutting back on materials) while legislatures have imposed a variety of politicized mandates (like standardized testing, reduced job security, and more punitive assessments of teaching). All this amidst a stream of ferocious rhetoric aimed at teachers. Hence the predictable hemorrhaging of teachers and the decline in recruits. In Florida, the number of students entering colleges of education declined nearly 40 % between 2006 and 2015, while experienced teachers leave the profession. What might surprise the more unrealistic market theorists is that some employees would rather fight than leave - and considering that many teachers have immovable pensions, of course many of them fought back. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has called the teachers everyday heroes: "Teachers have reached the end of their rope over decades of austerity budgets that have robbed children of good education. Politicians are on notice."
Second of all, these are four relatively anti-union states where teachers' unions have little (or no) clout. Much of the speculation about which state is next focuses on other anti-union states where, perhaps not coincidentally, education funding in general and teacher salaries in particular are low. An anti-union anti-education state government might be surprised by public employees who protest and organize rather than submit or leave. In contrast, in Florida - which also has a relatively anti-union (and anti-education) legislature - the union is strong enough to bargain and enforce contracts, which is one reason why Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall discouraged walkouts.
Nevertheless, the situation in Florida is getting dire. Union clout depends on membership, and if employees do not join, the union has no clout. When the situation became unbearable, teachers set up their own organizations or got active in their unions (as Charles Giullaume Étienne said, if you want something done right, do it yourself). And immediate concessions will not matter as much as long-term changes. Just as Florida's teacher walkout of 1968 transformed education in Florida (although, alas, not enough), the question is whether these walkouts will lead to something permanent or whether it will blow over. At stake is the future of education in a number of already dysfunctional states.
Anti-union interests have not been confining themselves to comparisons between striking teachers and spoiled adolescents. Perhaps the most significant effort is Janus v. AFSCME, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in February. Mark Janus is a social worker in a bargaining unit represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Illinois, but he chose not to join the union. Unlike Florida, Illinois permits unions (under certain conditions) to charge non-members for representation, and Mr. Janus sued - with ample support from various political interests - claiming that paying the fee violated his first amendment rights.
This is the old Tragedy of the Commons situation: whether or not I join and pay dues has little effect on the union's effectiveness, so perhaps I should just rely on others to join and pay dues. But if everyone does that, then the union doesn't have the resources to be effective and everyone suffers. Unions - like other organizations - have had difficulties relying on social pressure and a sense of duty to get sufficient support, so in some states, unions persuaded legislatures to let them charge non-members fees for bargaining and contract enforcement. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that this was constitutional, but the current bench may reverse precedent and rule that these fees violate non-members' First Amendment rights by forcing them to associate with (i.e. pay for) an organization that they disagree with.
Unions see a ruling in favor of Janus as a major blow, but 538 observed that evidence is mixed. At any rate, noticing that the sort of wildcatting going on in the previous article is happening in states with weak unions (if any), a pro-Janus ruling could have many unintented consequences.
Meanwhile, higher education should not imagine being above the fray. There are many connections between interests harassing public education and teachers' unions, and interests harassing higher education. For one thing, there is a lot of popular resentment of "Elitists, crybabies and junky degrees," and this resentment has bubbled into tenure "reform" legislation in Kentucky and Tennessee.
We may be facing a hurricane season of a different sort, and it may be a good time to start thinking about how USF and the union will navigate these interesting times. Come to the social tomorrow to start the discussion.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, April 20, at noon, on USF Tampa, in the Marshall Student Center Sabal Room.
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