I talk to veteran union critic Mike Antonucci about what’s next for unions, whether charter school teacher organizing is *a thing,* and whether he has any advice for teacher union heads Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia…
Jennifer Berkshire: You’ve been predicting that it’s only a matter of time until the Supreme Court delivers a crushing blow vs. public sector unions. This interview has barely started and your powers of prediction are already being borne out. What happens next?
Mike Antonucci: Essentially agency fees [which require public employees who choose not to join a union to instead pay a fee to the union] will be banned regardless of what state you’re in. There’s no question it will be momentous change, but as long as there is collective bargaining it won’t be *the end of unions,* as some have claimed. I’ve used Florida or Nevada as the model for what public sector unions will all look like post-agency fee. Heck, before their recent problems, the Alabama Education Association was the dominant force in that state’s politics. So I don’t want to downplay it, but I think both sides are somewhat overstating the effect it will have externally. Internally there will have to be belt-tightening. That’s where we’ll see the real fireworks.
Berkshire: I want to dwell for a moment on the name of the gentleman at the heart of the case that now appears to be headed to the Supreme Court. It’s Janus, which is also the Roman god whose two faces look to the past and the future. This strikes me as a perfect metaphor for the state of unions right now: both stuck in the past, unable to adjust to the changing nature of work and workplaces, yet in many ways more necessary than ever.
Antonucci: The unions that we have now haven’t changed in any significant way since the late 70’s, and this is especially true of the public sector unions. They’re working in a world that no longer exists. I’ve written a lot about the lack of input from younger teachers and millennials in the teachers unions. The union is sincere about wanting to get more of those members into the leadership, and yet the paradox that I always see is that those teachers have different priorities, different ways of looking at things and different things that they want from the union. Some people are going to want to set up their own conditions of employment. They feel comfortable setting a value on their own labor and going to an employer and saying: *this is what I’m worth and this is what I want.* A lot of the economy works that way now. Other people are going to need representation of some sort, whether it’s a union or some other kind of agent. Some of them will bond together to make a larger group with unified interests so that they can negotiate as one to get what they want. All of those things will continue to be true into the future. Continue reading →
TFA alum and scholar Terrenda White says that TFA’s diversity gains have come at the expense of teachers of color, whose numbers have declined drastically in the very cities where the organization has expanded.
Jennifer Berkshire: You have a new paper out examining TFA’s initiative to become more diverse. You use the word *paradox,* but don’t you mean ‘success’? I just read this TFA tweet that *The TFA corps more closely reflects the public-school population than any other large teacher-provider.* What’s paradoxical about that?
Terrenda White: When I was first writing about TFA, I was complaining about the lack of diversity in the corps, especially when I was there in the early 2000s. And so a part of me is really happy that TFA seems to care about diversity and improving their numbers, and I think I’m fair in my piece about acknowledging that. But while TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge. Continue reading →
EduShyster: Chicago, like many cities, is seeing big protests over police brutality. I’m wondering if you see any connection between these protests and the discontent over school closures in the city’s poor neighborhoods that continues to simmer today.
Karen Lewis: We don’t really like to talk about race and class, but they underpin both of these issues. I’m 61 years old, which means I went through the original Civil Rights Movement—it’s not just history to me. But I also know from history that the extra-judicial killing of Black men is nothing new in our society. The difference is that we have social media, we have recordings, and so you have a movement of people demanding accountability. What’s been really interesting to me is that you see the same concepts emerging whether we’re talking about policing or education: compliance, obedience and a loss of dignity. I’m going to tell you what to do and if you don’t do it, I’ll just take your life. The same with schools: if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’ll just take your school. To me, this is a very interesting co-mingling of what justice really looks like and it’s very different for different people. Continue reading →
I brought some big questions with me to the Windy City—and I need your help in order to answer them…
When I visited Chicago last spring I learned something that really surprised me. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Chicagoans have more than 5,000 different ways of insulting Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (He’s a what????) Virtually everyone I talked to—parents, teachers, community leaders—told me that the closure of 50 neighborhood schools was about more than just the future of public education in Chicago, but the question of who gets to live in a city that’s rapidly becoming richer and whiter. I couldn’t wait to return to find out more. But I need some assistance in order to delve more deeply into how big money education reform and what Mayor Emanuel is fond of calling *the New Chicago* connect—and that’s where you come in. Continue reading →
EduShyster turns two years old—and confronts some fiercely urgent questions…
So what are some of the big lessons you learned this year?
That when you establish yourself as an obnoxious online presence, you go over surprisingly well when people meet you in real life. And that when you use a combination of facts and whimsy, and basically say the same things over and over again, every once in a while people actually pay attention. Also, that there appear to be quite a few people doing extraordinarily well by *doing good*… Continue reading →