Earlier this month, the presidents of America’s two largest teachers unions co-hosted a screening of the new documentary “Bully.” The movie, of course, aims to combat bullying of schoolchildren.
But even as they publicly eschew bullying, these unions and their locals across the nation bully teachers and competing organizations to maintain membership and power. I have published a new report on the details of this ugly trend in School Reform News.
In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations — not just unions, but also other professional organizations — equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.
Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.
This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn’t publicly speak for a bill extending the state’s two-week window for ending union membership.
“They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization,” she wrote. “I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job.”
At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being “a desperate former teacher” and stalked about the room ripping up the competition’s fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.
These are not isolated incidents. Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations. In regular legislation-tracking for School Reform News, I have uncovered many examples of such behavior across the country. Some are as outrageous as the ones above, while others are mere annoyances. They all, however, represent a consistent effort to intimidate teachers and suppress ideas that might threaten their agenda.
“This is everywhere,” said Alexandra Schroeck, communications director for the American Association of Educators, the largest nonunion teachers association. AAE offers teachers liability insurance, professional development grants and legal representation in employment disputes, but
it does not engage in collective bargaining or political activism. Its fees are approximately $15 per month, whereas union dues are often $50 per month or more. Like other nonunion teachers organizations, such as Educators4Excellence in New York and the California Teacher Empowerment Network, AAE has been growing, but it constantly runs up against unethical and sometimes illegal union-influenced resistance.
In Utah, for example, a refusal to allow all teachers associations equal access to privileges like payroll deductions, teacher in-services and orientation, and committees (often a union, but no other teachers association, is guaranteed a seat or several) is illegal. Rather than granting access, many principals and superintendents just ignore phone calls and emails requesting it to avoid admitting they are breaking the law, said the state’s AAE membership director, Charity Smith.
This year, Smith said, a large male union representative met her at her presentation to a group of teachers and demanded she reveal whom she
had talked to, where she was planning to visit next, and her home address. Teachers have whispered to her they were interested in leaving the union but couldn’t talk about it openly at school, slipping her their email addresses for later communication. All the states the report covers are right-to-work states, but this is not preventing such persecution.
Teachers unions proclaim to the public that they represent teachers. They also say they are against bullying. My research provides important context for both claims.
Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute