Friday, May 18, 2018

School Scope: Teacher Unions and Right to Work

Published May 18, The WAVE,

School Scope:  Teacher Unions and Right to Work
By Norm Scott

Last week I wrote about the red-state teacher revolts that seem to be sweeping the nation in states that cut taxes and education drastically. Many of the strikes have been illegal wildcat actions – not necessarily sanctioned by the unions, which in those states are under state control by the two big national unions, the NEA and the AFT (the local UFT has its foot in both, but plays the major role in the AFT, where the UFT tail wags the bigger dog through sheer numbers alone. Other than a brief 4 year period since 1974, former UFT presidents have moved up to AFT president.)

All these states are right to work (RTW) states where teachers are not required to pay union dues even when the unions negotiate their contracts and offer other services. Thus, union membership is low and the unions are relatively weak compared to non RTW states like New York, where the unions have such control over the members, they can put a damper on the type of actions taking place in the red states, where teacher militancy has often been led by teachers in the classroom who have acted independently of the union leaders. It is my contention this can never happen here in NYC due to the extensive control the Unity Caucus party that has run the UFT since its inception almost 60 years ago. I can remember only one time where a revolt from the classrooms forced the UFT to take strike action. That was in 1975 in the massive budget crisis. As UFT leader Al Shanker did not really believe in the strike, the outcome was not very good and 15,000 people were laid off and we were fined 2 for 1 through Taylor Law penalties and the UFT itself lost dues check off privileges for a period of time, which means the city doesn’t take dues out of the paycheck. That is a severe penalty and that threat alone often keeps unions in line.

With the Supreme Court about to render a decision in the Janus case, which if it goes against unions, as expected, the entire nation will be right to work and the UFT could lose thousands of members who won’t pay dues, thus leading to massive cuts in the union bureaucracy and some level of control over its members. Politicians recognize this danger to their partnership with the unions and, led by Gov. Cuomo have moved to offer some protections to the unions by passing a law that doesn’t require them to provide lawyers to teachers in trouble. Keep ‘em in the union with threats will not be enough of an incentive for some, especially younger low-salaried members who pay the same dues as senior members making much more money, many of whom are not staying in the system.

If it comes about, will a weakened UFT lead to more militancy from below and lead to wildcat actions like a blue flu? I’m betting NO, unless conditions here mirror red states. And that will take a long time in coming.

Norm wildcats every day at

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Things in NY will have to get much worse before NY sees actions like in other states. But as things get worse and the UFT continues to do nothing more members will decline being in the union. UFT leadership will then have less power to do anything if they ever wake up and decide to do what's right by teachers. I'd pay double the damn union dues if Mulgrew fought for us like Norm does. (And James Eterno and and other good people who have stood up for us time and time again) Roseanne McCosh


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