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Est. April 5, 2002
March 08, 2018 - Issue 732

Teachers, Janus v. AFSCME,
and the
West Virginia Teachers Strike

"It is instructive that Secretary DeVos, one of
the nation’s most aggressive opponents against
public education, teachers, and unions, was in
attendance at the SCOTUS Janus hearing rooting
for Janus.  Therefore, it is even more imperative
that teachers organize for their survival."

Teachers have a clear message for the 2018 midterms: “We ain’t taking it anymore!” They are having their voices heard and their votes have made a difference in the victories of fifty Democrats over Republicans since Donald Trump was chosen President in 2016. Teachers are exhibiting a new and sustained enthusiasm in legislative districts and municipal and mayoral races in states that went for Trump - Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, etc. These efforts are timely in that teachers are and have been backed into a corner in terms of their pensions, benefits, and salaries in both red and blue states. As noted earlier, there is a coordinated attack on the teaching profession and public education, in general, that has been sanctioned by President Trump and his corporate backers, and it is being facilitated by his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees), a case that challenges the requirement that forces public employees who do not want to belong to unions to pay unions’ “agency fees” for bargaining for wages and benefits collectively on their behalf. The plaintiff, Mark Janus asserted that the agency fees violate his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association by compelling him to underwrite union political activity with which he disagrees. Janus and like-minded workers have indicated that they feel that they are being compelled, against their wishes, to support and/or affiliate with a political party or perspective with which they do not agree and that they have to do so in order to retain their employment. Since a large majority of public-sector unions are allied with the Democratic Party, their Republican members are becoming increasingly aggrieved and pushing back with major financial backing from corporate PACs (Political Action Committees), the education reform Cartel, and conservative foundations.

This is the second public-sector union agency fee case that has been argued before SCOTUS. In 2016, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) was heard and appeared on its way to being affirmed as then Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to be persuaded to support Rebecca Friedrichs during the court debate. However, he died unexpectedly before the decision could be rendered, and SCOTUS deadlocked 4-4, leaving agency fees in place. The anti-union lobby quickly regrouped and found a new surrogate to carry its flag. And unions are once again on the ropes fighting for their stability. Justice Scalia was replaced by his arch-conservative mentee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who is even more conservative, thus leading many, including public-sector union leaders, to conclude that Janus will be upheld.

When this occurs, unions will likely lose twenty to thirty percent of their membership (depending on the strength of their bonds with their members) and hundreds of millions of dollars that fund collective bargaining and political activities. Coupled with the ongoing privatization assault on unions, teachers, and public schools, there is an increasing likelihood of K-12 education being radically transformed and/or considerably undermined. Janus is yet another bomb targeting the public-sector and public education in the ongoing efforts to privatize our nation. It is instructive that Secretary DeVos, one of the nation’s most aggressive opponents against public education, teachers, and unions, was in attendance at the SCOTUS Janus hearing rooting for Janus. Therefore, it is even more imperative that teachers organize for their survival.

Elsewhere, teachers and educational support personnel in West Virginia went on a twelve-day strike, idling 270,000 students, demanding a five percent raise and a revision of their health insurance package. The strike was apparently spearheaded by State Senator Richard Ojeda (D) when this past … “ January, he stood on the Senate floor and argued in fiery speeches that energy companies should pony up more taxes so teachers could get better benefits and pay. A strike, he warned, was not out of the question. A month later, teachers from all 55 counties walked off the job—a first in the history of the state—instantly making Ojeda the father of one of the region’s largest labor actions of the past 30 years.”

Ojeda, who voted for Trump after his preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders was beaten by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, has been a labor warrior since his arrival in the state house in 2016. After a year in office, he is running for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District seat that the Republican incumbent, Evan Jenkins, won so decisively in 2016 that he is now running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate with the expectation that he will oppose and defeat the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin, in November 2018. The Cook Political Report, a highly respected political prognosticator, does not even rate the district as competitive listing it as safe for Republicans. But the teachers’ passion for Ojeda is evident in every region of the state, especially after their victory last Tuesday after West Virginia’s Republican-controlled State Senate tried to block their raise. Ojeda will have volunteers pouring into the 3rd District throughout the state and from across the country.

In addition, West Virginia teachers are energizing their colleagues all over the country. Oklahoma teachers are discussing a strike to jump start their efforts to raise their incomes and benefits, and teachers in Pennsylvania are solidly behind Conor Lamb (D) who is poised to win the 18th Congressional District long held by Republicans. This seat, and that of West Virginia State Senator Richard Ojeda and others, could be crucial to Democrats taking over the U.S. House of Representatives. If teachers are to remain the profession that they are, they will have to elect representatives at every level of government to advocate for their interests. Opposing Trump is not enough. They must recreate the political infrastructure that enabled teachers to persist and thrive.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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