Opinion
Teaching Profession Commentary

Stop Writing That Obituary for Teachers’ Unions. We’re Not Going Anywhere

By Lily Eskelsen García — July 10, 2018 3 min read
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, middle, poses with teachers after a Phoenix #RedForEd rally in April.

Last 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 more now 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 their communities.

See Also: The Right-Wing Assault on Teachers’ Unions Won’t Win. It Only Makes Us Angrier

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 join together.

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/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 millions of NEA members—are not going anywhere. We intend to continue 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.

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Facebook and Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2018 edition of Education Week as We Aren’t Going Anywhere

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion What Can We Do to Help the Well-Being of Teachers?
A Seat at the Table focused on the social-emotional well-being of teachers during the pandemic. Here's what we learned from the guests.
1 min read
Sera   FCG
Shutterstock
Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
pavel_balanenko/iStock/Getty