by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Whose argument is this?
“The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to . . . redirect the conversation from one about adults to one about students.”
It might surprise you to hear that that’s the position of Andy Stern, longtime president of the Service Employees International Union. SEIU is the only labor organization in the U.S. that has been even more politically active in recent decades than the teachers’ unions. Stern was known for visiting the Obama White House more than any other person.
So why is a supreme labor activist now annoying the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and other union defenders of the public-school establishment? At one point, Stern discovered that members of a janitors’ union in his network overwhelmingly supported charter schools as crucial to the success of their children. He started backing families in school-reform battles and served on charter-school boards. He continues to rally opinion in favor of educational experiments. Despite his impeccable left-wing credentials, his labor friends are provoked about that.
You see, teacher unions are pushing hard in a different direction. The strikes they launched in West Virginia in February 2018 subsequently swept the nation. The movement spread to Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Oakland, other swaths of California, and beyond. These were the most militant labor actions in the U.S. in decades — involving 485,000 total strikers in 2018, more than in any other annual period for the past 32 years. These teachers from conventional public schools mobilized powerful pressure on politicians to curtail education reforms.