Dissension in the Ranks and Files of Teacher Unions

The Wall St. Journal reported yesterday that the Wisconsin Education Association  has “lost more than half of its 40,000 members in four years" since the Legislature passed a law that makes membership and dues voluntary. That loss is just a harbinger of problems for teacher unions in the Badger State and beyond.

First, unsurprisingly, Wisconsin's new voluntary dues structure proves that teachers would rather keep their hard-earned money than blindly authorize deductions to political organizations.  Staying with the theme, this year the Supreme Court hears Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association and if the plaintiff wins all teachers will get that choice.

But there's another fracture that’s almost as threatening as voluntary dues structures: the split between old-time union politicians who want to play it safe  and new leaders who preach a more radical agenda, damn the torpedoes. We see this split most clearly in the current internecine dissension regarding national union endorsements of presidential candidates.

Yesterday the Washington Post described how AFL-CIO’s leaders’ grappled  with whether to endorse  Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton (different union, same verse):
Top political operatives inside organized labor – already reeling from long-term declines in membership – do not want to lose even more juice by backing the quixotic bid of a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont. But others lower in the ranks, and those who have worked closely with Sanders over his 25 years in Congress, are more concerned about ideological purity than anything else.
There’s always been a more radical constituency within unions who "are more concerned about ideological purity." What’s different now is that that constituency is growing in strength just as the traditional unionists’ power weakens.

Look at the  burgeoning membership of the Badass Teachers Association, who assailed Randi Weingarten for her early endorsement of Clinton. From an article called "Teachers Say No Freakin' Way to AFT Endorsement of Hillary Clinton":
 The Badass Teachers Association  (BAT) took matters into their own hands by conducting a poll on Face Book. So far 1240 teachers endorsed Bernie Sanders and only 84 endorsed Clinton. One teacher said "Weingarten has this thing about giving false information via polls... It's scary."
Activist teacher members and others lamented that the AFT endorsement of Clinton was a clear reminder of President Randi Weingarten's autocratic leadership style that treats teachers like passive herd-driven professionals rather than independent thinkers with a voice.
There's  other signs of internecine dissent within bargaining units between those who promote pragmatism and those who yearn for "ideological purity."  For example, the traditional leadership of Newark Teachers Union has been undermined by the growing strength of the more radical Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus, which took over the Executive Board last year (although it lost the contest for union president. See here for details.)

Also see Orange County, Florida, where Wednesday  NEA national officials ousted local officers. Deposed President Diana Moore told WFTV that
“As a dues-paying union member, I was not afforded the opportunity to have representation all throughout this matter. What I have tried to do is preserve the rights and due process of all members of Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. I’m shocked that the national union does not honor a paying union member’s rights to due process. Our members in Orange County are quite happy with their union. NEA has remained silent despite reaching out for support. This is all about members and money. They’re losing members and money in the national organization. It’s politics at its worst.”
Last Saturday at a BAT "Congress," members heard a keynote that included this doggerel:
For nearly eight years Mr. Duncan, the balls been in your court.
But it is obvious to all, leadership wasn’t your sport.
Your reign is now ending in thunderous despair.
You hear a crack from the heavens and you wonder “Whose there?”                                                        You reach for your binder and swing: 'swat swat'                                                                                                                                  
It’s a shame you didn’t play baseball, or you would know all about BATs.
BATs fly by radar; we see with mind, how you have left our children and schools in a bind.
When down in a block we descend from the sky, to show you the door and tell you “Bye Bye!”
Judging by recent events, BAT's would just as soon tell Randi Weingarten "bye bye" as well. This lack of support represents as big a challenge to union governance as Abood and Friedrichs.

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