Sunday, January 23, 2011

Alabama’s Tough New Anti-Union Laws—A Boon for Organizing?

Several tough new anti-teacher’s union laws were recently passed in Alabama, in the wake of an ethics investigation of education lobbyist Paul Hubbert. One law bans teachers from serving in the Statehouse. Another bans public employee unions that engage in lobbying from collecting dues through paycheck deductions.

While I oppose the use of members’ dues for lobbying, in fact I oppose lobbying and political action by unions, the laws are clearly unfair as they only target specific members of society. My understanding is that unions which do not lobby can still collect dues through payroll deductions. For those that choose to continue lobbying, the process of dues collection will become much more expensive, time-consuming, and difficult, potentially leading to devastating revenue shortfalls that could even bankrupt the unions.

There is a silver lining on this: Perhaps Alabama’s public employee unions will get out of the politics game, which they cannot win anyway (especially against the bottomless pockets of big business), and go back to the more effective and powerful tactics of organizing, educating and agitating their members and the communities that support them. It is important to remember that buying politicians does not necessarily get workers the laws and budgets that they want. But a well-organized union is a militant one and one that can mobilize quickly to take actions that force the bosses (and politicians) to bend.


  1. This is a very thoughtful post. Unions have come to behave too much like a corporate "roof" for fearful workers. Yes, due process and contracts matter. It's also true that for years now, unions have not consistently advocated for rank-and-file members, who get soaked for dues anyway.

  2. Thank you.

    While I haven't yet had a chance to read your book, I'm curious if you discuss your union in it, or if you'd be willing to share an experience here?

  3. In my book, the union comes up indirectly, mostly as a source of non-action. In some cases, peer reps were helpful for moral support, but it was typical for colleagues not to turn to the union leadership for backup in serious situations concerning work conditions, threats, or (heaven forbid) bad pedagogy--a trend that seems consistent across the country.

    Beyond that, you might really be interested in Leonard Isenberg, at PerDaily online, and his analysis of union collusion with administration in LAUSD.

    I'm going to be in in your area, in SF, on April 21 for a panel addressing "Waiting for Superman." Please let me know if you'd like deets.

    Thanks again for keeping the conversation going.

  4. Thanks for the personal story.

    What you express is all too common. Teacher unions tend to only want to address "contractual" issues, and not working conditions issues. They tend to be very reactive (fighting to maintain the status quo) and not proactive, trying to improve working conditions. One of the strengths of teachers unions is the access to attorneys and representatives in the grievance process. Unfortunately, we tend not to educate our members on this or encourage the filing of grievances, which is one way to keep the boss honest, and to protect teachers' right to due process.

    Please send info on your upcoming visit to SF.