United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) just had one of its most contested elections ever for its decision-making body, the House of Representatives. 396 candidates fought for 209 positions, with 100 seats taken by rookie representatives, according to the LA Times. Many of these new delegates were sponsored by outside groups, like Educators 4 Excellence and Teach Plus. Another sponsoring organization, Teachers for a New Unionism, is headed by Mike Stryer, former activist with NewTLA, a conservative opposition movement that formed within UTLA a few years ago.
Each of these groups receives funding from free market education reform nonprofits, including the Gates Foundation and each wants to make the union focus more on the “interests of students” (weakening teachers’ job protections and working conditions). They have also been strong backers of Value Added evaluations and abolishing or weakening seniority.
On the one hand, serious union activists and teachers should be concerned that corporate money is being used to undermine their organizing efforts. On the other hand, this really isn’t anything new. Employers routinely interfere in organizing efforts, harass organizers, punish or fire employees who engage in union activities, and bombard them with misinformation about unions. The bosses just hadn’t been so effective at fielding their own candidates in union elections.
At the same time, UTLA veterans and other union bureaucrats and dinosaurs should consider why so many young teachers are either disillusioned with their unions or allying themselves with corporate Ed Deformers. A union that effectively fights for the interests of all their members should have no problem winning younger teachers over to their side or convincing them of the naiveté and self-destructiveness of these corporate alliances. It is true that UTLA must counter an effective anti-union propaganda machine. However, UTLA, like most other teachers unions, has contributed to its own negative image by making so many compromises with the enemy while doing little to support young teachers, who are often the first to go during layoffs.