by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Los Angeles schoolteacher Glenn Laird has been a union stalwart for almost four decades. He served as a co-chair of his school’s delegation to United Teachers Los Angeles and proudly wore union purple on the picket line.
But Laird is now suing to leave UTLA and demanding a refund of the dues the union has collected since his resignation request. His turning point came in July 2020, when the union, the second-largest teachers’ union in the country, joined liberal activists to demand that Los Angeles defund the police in response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Laird, who is white, was floored. The union seemed to have forgotten why schools hired more safety officers back in the 1980s and 1990s, when Los Angeles was one of America’s most violent cities. Laird is concerned about his union’s embrace of so-called social-justice issues.
“I would much prefer a union focused completely on wages, hours, working conditions,” he said. “When the union goes into political-activist mode, I think it dilutes the practice of what a union is supposed to be doing.”
Laird is not alone. He is among union rank-and-file nationwide chafing at their leadership’s embrace of woke politics as a means of reversing declining membership and maintaining influence in the Democratic Party — dissent shown in defections to Donald Trump in the last two elections as well as high-profile recent organizing defeats and court setbacks.
The departure from traditional union rhetoric — from the local level all the way up to the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, who died last week — reflects labor’s relative weakness and the recognition that its future depends less on “lunch-pail workers” than on progressive professionals in tech and elsewhere for whom values and social justice are key concerns.
“There are some tensions between the generally liberal leadership and certainly strong pockets of rank-and-file conservatism on social issues,” says labor historian Leon Fink. …