Monday, September 4, 2023

Anti-Union Unions Still Recruiting

If there's anything true about teachers in unions, it's that some folks wish they weren't. And right now, yet another group is trying to sell the idea. But looking at some of the players in this anti-teacher-union space seems like a fine way to celebrate Labor day. 

In some states, the tactic has been to simply strip unions of power so that A) they can't really do anything and B) teachers leave them because they can't really do anything.

But in other states, the tactic has to try to sell teachers directly on the idea of getting out. We've seen a variety of these outfits. 

Leave your evil union!

Early entry into the field included Free To Teach, an operation of Americans for fair Treatment, a shell group for Pennsylvania's right wing Commonwealth Foundation. 

There's the Freedom Foundation, which once bragged that it "has a proven plan for bankrupting and defeating government unions through education, litigation, legislation and community activation ... we won’t be satisfied with anything short of total victory against the government union thugs." Freedom Foundation was founded by the Bradley Foundation, the Koch Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust. 

Then there's the Speak Out For Teachers outfit, brought to us by the Center for Union Facts, an anti-union group that was part of the constellation of dark money groups run by Richard Berman, who has long been a down and dirty fighter against unions. (They appear to have gone dark themselves a couple years ago)

There's For Kids and Country, the enterprise of former teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, who was the face of a big anti-teacher-union lawsuit almost a decade ago and has since launched a career as a talking head on the Fox-Breitbart circuit. They have a whole guide on how to talk a teacher into leaving the union. 

Or you could have My Pay My Say, the "don't you want to quit the union" initiative of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a right wing pressure group based in Michigan and so, as you might expect funded with a bunch of DeVos money as well as Walton, Koch and dark money.

The Janus decision, which invented the right of teachers to be free riders in unions, collecting benefits but paying no dues, gave rise to plenty of these groups. They will argue teachers should drop union dues because then they would get more money (spoiler alert: none of these groups or their backers have ever advocated for higher teacher salaries). 

And we're going to skip over the various state-level versions of these groups.

There are also anti-union teachers who make arguments like "I could negotiate a better contract for myself if I weren't tied to this union," and they are just so cute. Nobody tell them about Santa, either. The anti-union outfits love to cheer these folks on, and they might even get to leave teaching for a cushy thinky tank gig. 

But when these groups are not trying to coax teacher away from the union, their purposes are more clear.

The teachers unions (well, all unions, but the teachers have the biggest ones these days) give a whole bunch of money to Democratic politicians, so, the reasoning goes, defund the unions and defund the Democrats. Plus, as a bonus, depower the unions and then teachers don't get all uppity about decent contracts and working conditions and just generally getting in the way of The People In Charge. 

Some of this is just realpolitik gamesmanship, but there are anti-union folks who feel pretty mouth-frothy about this. The narrative for some is that public schools are a scam, a way to funnel money to teachers who in turn funnel it to Democrats and liberals. (In return these "teachers" get a pretend job in which they don't actually try to educate anyone.) You'll hear language about how union leaders are "corrupt," and that Venn diagram shows some overlap with diagram of people who think elections are rigged because those elections allow people to vote who shouldn't have a say. If you're of the opinion that society is supposed to have tiers, then teachers unions represent an attempt to exercise power by people who shouldn't have any, people who refuse to know their place.

Another wing of these anti-union efforts are the anti-union unions, groups that are set up to provide a alternative organization for people who don't want to go it alone. We've had teacher collectives a decade or so ago that were created for the purpose of supporting Common Core and high stakes testing ("See? Teachers think this stuff is great!") like Educators 4 Excellence et al. 

But nowadays the big names are about giving teachers an alternative to AFT and NEA.

There's the Christian Educators Association. 

I've written about them before--here are some of the highlights. 

The Christian Educators Association is not a new player (you may have heard the name before--we'll get to that shortly). They were founded as the National Educators Fellowship in 1953 by Dr. Clyde Narramore, an author of over 100 books, most focusing on psychology. He even had a syndicated radio show with his wife Ruth. His shtick was psychology steeped in Christian belief, and he eventually launched and led the Rosemead School of Psychology which has since been folded into Biola University, a private evangelical Christian university in La Mirada, California. Biola was founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles by the president of the Union Oil Company of California, based on the model of the Moody Bible Institute, later broadening their programs (including an education department).

In 1984 they changed the name to Christian Educators Association International, and in 1991, then-leader Forrest Turpen continued restructuring the group to be "an alternative to teachers' unions, at a time when unions were embracing values more and more hostile to the Biblical worldview." I was teaching then; I'm not sure what exactly they were upset about (Outcome based education?) Turpen led the group from 1983 till 2003, expanded membership, and went after the secular unions. As always, the mission was unequivocally evangelical; when he died, friends noted his "dogged determination to see the gospel proclaimed to the children of this nation."

CEAI became increasingly aggressive. Under new leader (and former Ohio public school teacher) Finn Laursen, CEAI launched the Daniel Project to provide schools with modern day Daniels:

Christ-centered teachers are nominated, selected and funded to participate in Daniel Weekends to help them rekindle their passion, calling and courage to transform their schools with God’s love and truth.

Totally cool because, as Laursen explains here, the founders totally wanted religion in schools. He also makes the claim that in the past, the US schools were first in math and literacy and "the envy of the world" (not actually true), but then in the sixties the Supreme Court took prayer out of school. And as another CEAI writer puts it, "By not honoring God in our schools, We have allowed unbelief to be sown into the lives of our children. And when a nation sows unbelief it reaps a harvest Of brokenness, division and moral decay."

In 2013, CEAI joined in a lawsuit being brought by a photogenic California teacher to challenge California's fair share rule that says non-members must still pay the union a share of dues to cover some costs of the union activities from which they benefit. The teacher was Rebecca Friedrichs, who was a CEAI member, and the case was rightly seen as an attack on unionism, especially because Friedrichs was willing to get in front of any camera to talk about how bad the union was.

CEAI got a new chief in 2017--David Schmus, who has a BA in Political Science from Pepperdine and a MA in Biblical Studies and Theology, as well as a CTEL/CLAD Cross-Cultural Language teaching certificate, from Biola University, where he taught for 13 years and was a computer tech for 6. Schmus was in charge when the Janus verdict came down to cheer that "Our teachers...are now free."

In 2022 they went through a rebrand aimed at trying "to reach the next generation of Ambassadors for Christ in our schools." The "leave your union" message, though still there, has been toned down considerably. There continues to be some question about how many actual members they have--maybe not even 10,000.

American Association of Educators

AAE was founded in California in 1994 by Gary Beckner who was a community college instructor and textbook author who also liked to fish and sing, but mostly he was an insurance salesman with a BS in marketing. He appears to have been religious, but there's little on line to indicate what exactly moved him to create AAE. He got a handful of former Teachers of the Year to start it with him. In 1997 he told David Kirkpatrick:

Many teachers who contact us are aware of some of the independent groups...but express dissatisfaction that these groups sometimes don't seem much different than the NEA—especially regarding reform issues such as school choice, tenure, standards, or competency testing. They also express concern that these organizations shy away from taking stands on controversial issues such as multiculturalism, Goals 2000 funding, OBE [outcome-based education], etc.

On their webpage touting the new(er) Pennsylvania branch, AAE says

AAE is committed to a teaching profession that is student oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling. AAE is dedicated to restoring the true teacher voice to policy debates and implementation.

AAE remains on the reformiy side of many issues. Their blog includes pieces about how school choice is great, and Lucy Culkins is terrible. Their Advisory Board includes right-tilted reformsters such as Jay Greene (Heritage Foundation), Mike Petrilli (Fordham Institute), and Rick Hess (American Enterprise Institute), plus some charter school folks. 

The Center for Media and Democracy found that AAE scored a hefty grant from the right wing Bradley Foundation; in their grant proposal, they said "AAE thinks it is well-positioned to help further weaken the unions and their political goals."

Three years ago, AAE became quite visible in Wisconsin in the middle of the blustery public discourse about Act 10, during which (Kristi) Lacroix herself and the group’s small number of members were helpful. AAE and Lacroix have admirably struggled, in the face of severe challenges, to increase that number and decrease the unions’ hold on teachers’ money, and thus their power. Therefore, staff recommends a $200,000 investment in AAEF for the Wisconsin activities.

Ultimately, says CMD, Bradley pumped $1.7 million into AAE. 

AAE talks about a lot of things that other unions talk about, like dealing with covid, self care, increasing teacher diversity. They offer a sort of stripped down version of liability and certificate protection. Collectiove bargaining and workplace clout? Not so much. But folks like the Bradleys love to see unions with less money and power, and AAE certainly helps with that.

Union busting never goes out of style

I have been the president of a local teachers union (and through a strike, no less). I have also been that local member who got ahold of state leadership to give them hell. I will be the last person to tell you that PSEA and NEA should be trusted and followed every time without question. Unions are imperfect organizations, sometimes infuriatingly so. Always have been.

But they're still necessary.

You know what the most effective anti-union measure is? I saw it in action at a local business-- you treat your employees with such care and respect, and you make their working conditions so good and their pay and benefit so attractive that when the union tries to come in, the employees say, "What do we need you for?"

But in education, as in many fields, the desire is to figure out how the least you can get away with spending on the whole enterprise, and since teachers are the major expense at most districts, that means the pressure will always be to pay them the least, and give them the fewest benefits that you can and still manage to fill positions. And these days, most districts are actually offering less than that, as witness by the teacher exodus. 

On top of that, teachers need a minimal amount of protection just to do their jobs without constant fear of reprisal or obstruction. 

The point of joining a real teachers union is not to get rich or to be protected from being incompetent (a union does neither), but to get the elbow room to do your damn job. In Pennsylvania, the union has to do that for you whether you join it or some other pretend union, unless, of course, so many people ditch the union that its power is too diminished to help them. Which is, for some folks, the dream.

Happy Labor Day. 

1 comment:

  1. We have one of these rightwing supposed teacher organizations here in North Carolina, the Carolina Teachers Alliance. They claim to be an alternative to our actual statewide teacher advocacy organization, the North Carolina Association of Educators. Neither can claim to be a union, since that is actually illegal in NC (teachers, like other public employees, can have advocacy organizations but cannot form real unions or engage in collective bargaining.) They keep trying to draw off support from the NCAE, which has been remarkably effective for an organization with virtually no real power, but so far have not really succeeded in drawing many members. This is probably because they have almost no experienced educators on board (they were founded by a failed classroom teacher) and most educators find their policies antithetical to both public schools and teachers in general. But it shows just how serious this rightwing push to undermine teacher unity is, that it even happens in a state where there are no unions at all.