Education Week - July 18, 2018 - 27
We Aren't Going Anywhere
By Lily Eskelsen García
Ipsos survey, nearly two-thirds of adults view
teachers' unions favorably.) That sentiment
is also felt in the strength of the NEA, whose
membership is higher today than at any
point in the last five years.
The hundreds of thousands of educators
who took to the streets this spring in support
of their students and public schools-and the
approximately 3 million NEA members-are
not going anywhere. We intend to continue
Years before Janus, the AFT embarked on
a plan to talk with every one of our members on issues that matter-supporting
public education, creating good jobs that
support a middle-class life, securing highquality and affordable health care, pursuing affordable higher education, fighting
discrimination and bigotry, and defending
democracy and pluralism. Whether you
lean conservative or liberal, higher wages,
a voice at work, safe schools, and a functioning democracy are American values.
Since January, all over the country, more
than half a million of our members signed
new cards recommitting to the union, and
to look at Arizona, Oklahoma, and West
Virginia to show that when salaries and
benefits are stripped away, the response can
be intense-and righteous. In Los Angeles,
34,000 members of the local union affiliate
were contacted by those Koch- and DeVoslinked groups trying to get them to opt out.
So far, only one member has.
Janus is looming as a new beginning,
rather than the end, of worker power and
voice. On the day Janus came down, 2,400
faculty members at Oregon State University
joined the AFT to bargain for better working conditions, and AFT nurses at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center won a
contract that boosts salaries and will help
prevent dangerous fatigue.
And whether it means winning parental
leave in New York City, securing a new contract for the teachers of Detroit that restores
funding for schools, or walking out for children and public education, we will not waver
in our fight.
An internal AFT member poll conducted
last month found that 74 percent had a
positive opinion of the union, while only 4
percent had a negative opinion. And the
public is with us, too. You saw it during
the walkouts: Support for teachers is widespread and foundational. A recent NPR/
Ipsos poll found nearly two-thirds of Americans approve of teachers' unions. Last summer, Gallup found that support for unions
more generally was at its highest level in
The road ahead won't be easy, but it never
has been. We are in a race for the soul of
our country. But if we really double down,
if we fight not only for what's right but for
what the vast majority of Americans believe, working people-not Janus' wealthy
funders-will emerge as the real winners. n
We must also understand
that we are up against
our fight for the public schools, which are
the foundation of our students' lives and our
country's future. And we will continue to rise
up and speak out in our community and at
the polls in support of our bold and optimistic vision of a future America where everyone
has a voice at work, a seat at the table, and
every student attends a public school that
helps them reach their fullest potential. n
LILY ESKELSEN GARCÍA is the president of the
National Education Association.
ast month's U.S. Supreme
Court decision in Janus v.
AFSCME seeks to turn back
the clock on almost a half
century of progress for working people. I wish that the
decision came as a surprise,
but those of us in teachers'
unions have been anticipating this radical retrenchment by the Supreme Court on this key
labor issue for years. This court's 5-4 ruling is
just the latest in a string of attacks by billionaires and corporate special interests against
workers. We know what we are up against-
and we are undeterred. We will move forward,
in solidarity, because American families need
unions now more than ever.
Those who are ready to write labor's obituary in the wake of this decision were not with
me this spring as I walked shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of educators
in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. As the
#RedForEd movement caught fire, public
school teachers, support staff, families, and
students said "no more" to leaky ceilings and
mice-infested classrooms, "no more" to decades-old textbooks and taped-together technology, "no more" to corporate tax cuts that
privilege the rich over the poor. They rose up
to fight for themselves, their students, and
In historic numbers, in seas of red shirts,
hand in hand with students and parents,
our National Education Association members and other educators flooded their state
capitol buildings, urging legislators to pay attention to the unacceptable conditions students face. These courageous educators could
no longer stand by as their students sat in
overcrowded classrooms with broken desks.
They could no longer stand by as school
weeks were shortened to four days. They
could no longer stand by as experienced colleagues left in droves the profession they
loved because they could no longer afford to
stay. Teachers, bus drivers, guidance counselors, cafeteria workers, and custodians stood
up, walked out, and demanded action. This
is what unions stand for. This is who we are
as educators. And we will not be silenced by
those who seek to stifle our voices.
Educators were not alone. The rivers of
people that flowed through the state capitols
wearing #RedForEd included small business
owners, fast-food workers, religious leaders,
nurses, parents, and students, all joining educators in solidarity.
These walkouts have not only brought
attention to the inadequate learning conditions many students face, but they have also
shown that labor, communities of color, and
women are fighting an interconnected battle
for a more equitable future. To rise, we must
We must also understand that we are up
against powerful forces.
The same well-funded special interests that
brought us anti-worker, anti-education policies
in state legislatures across the country are behind the Janus case. The National Right to Work
Foundation, the group whose lawyer argued the
case on behalf of Mark Janus, is part of a network
of organizations funded by corporate billionaires
like the Koch brothers to rig the rules against
working people. For decades, these wealthy elites
have used their fortunes to gain outsized influence by limiting the rights of people to unionize.
Despite these attacks, or maybe because
of them, unions remain the strongest voice
to challenge the corporate dominance over
every aspect of the economy. Educators are
trusted advocates for public schools and
students, and recent polls show public regard for unions and particularly teachers'
unions is high. (According to a recent NPR/
'We Are in a Race for
The Soul of Our Country'
By Randi Weingarten
he final day of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 term
may have been overshadowed by Justice Anthony
M. Kennedy's retirement,
but in one of two important cases decided that day,
the court overturned four
decades of precedent to bar public-sector
unions from charging fees to nonmembers
who enjoy the benefits of a union contract.
On its face, Janus v. American Federation
of State, County, and Municipal Employees
Council 31 claimed to be about free speech.
But the right-wing forces behind it admitted a detailed plan to "defund and defang"
unions and dismantle their political power.
That's according to documents obtained by
The Guardian from the State Policy Network-a national alliance that includes the
primary Janus-backer, the National Right
to Work Legal Defense Foundation, as an
As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her
dissent, the precedent established by the
court's 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling was embedded in the nation's
law and its economic life. It ensured the
labor peace that gave teachers, firefighters, nurses, police, and other public-sector
employees a path to a better life. It made
communities more resilient and kept public
In Janus, the plaintiffs weaponized the
First Amendment from its original purpose
of securing the political freedom necessary
for democracy by arguing compulsory union
fees violated free speech. By a 5-4 majority,
the court put the interests of billionaires
over established law and basic principle-
just as Justice Kennedy did with his deciding vote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The right wing's
thirst for power again trumped the aspirations of communities and the people who
Janus will, of course, hurt unions, but
most importantly-and by design-it will
hurt workers. Nevertheless, to paraphrase
Mark Twain, reports of our death have been
Unions are still the best vehicle working
people have to get ahead. Workers covered
by a union contract earn 13.2 percent more
than comparable workers in nonunionized
workplaces, and they are far more likely to
have employer-sponsored health insurance,
paid leave, and retirement benefits, according to a 2017 report from the Economic Policy Institute. Unions negotiate everything
from manageable class sizes to safety equipment for emergency personnel.
Unions help make possible what would be
impossible for individuals acting alone.
For the American Federation of Teachers'
1.75 million members (our largest membership ever, and growing-we've added a quarter million in the last decade), Janus poses
opportunities as well as threats. In the face
of right-wing attacks on public education
and labor, we have come to understand that
when we walk the walk with the community,
we become exponentially more powerful.
Unions are still the best
vehicle working people
have to get ahead."
that number is growing. Many of the AFT's
3,500 local affiliates are reporting that 90
percent or more of their members have recommitted.
After the Janus decision hit, groups
funded by the Koch brothers and the DeVos
family launched their own campaigns, urging Los Angeles Unified School District
teachers to "give themselves a raise" by
dropping the union. Think about it-not
only did U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy
DeVos attend the Janus oral arguments at
the Supreme Court (while not bothering to
put it on her public schedule), her fortune is
funding the post-Janus assault on unions.
When our members at AFT discover the
special interests behind these "opt out" campaigns, they get extra mad. You only need
RANDI WEINGARTEN is the president of the
American Federation of Teachers.
EDUCATION WEEK | July 18, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 27