Public Sector Unions

  • In recent years, a disturbing number of politicians have tried to blame public sector unions for their states’ budget crises. The basic argument is that unions have seriously exacerbated budget shortfalls because a significant proportion of state spending is tied up in employee compensation, and unions, via collective bargaining, increase salaries and benefits. A look at the data, however, shows that these assumptions are almost wholly untrue, especially since the wages and benefits of public sector workers tend to be lower than comparable private sector employees.

    So what accounts for the concerted attack on public sector workers and their unions at the national state, and local levels, too often resulting in the diminishment of collective bargaining rights, pensions, and union check off arrangements? To a large extent, this is an ideological argument waged on the basis of opinion, rather than fact. In response, the Institute has attempted to present a balanced and factual picture of the positive role of public services, public employees, and public sector unions through research and analysis, conferences, presentations, papers, and blog posts which examine 1) the importance of the union voice on the job both to workers and employers; 2) the role of collective bargaining in encouraging innovation and efficiency; 3) the strategic responses to opponents of public services and public service unions; and, 4) the relationship of good government and a strong union voice to a healthy democracy.

     

  • Puerto Rico: The Road to Recovery and Reconstruction

    Event Date

    Puerto Rico: The Road to Recovery and Reconstruction (#rebuildPR), March 1, 2018, co-sponsored by Albert Shanker Institute, American Federation of Teachers and Hispanic Federation. With the future of Puerto Rico hanging in the balance, this national conference focused on what needs to be done to rebuild the Puerto Rican economy and its educational system in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.  Watch the video.

     

  • The Crisis of Democracy Conference

    Event Date

    We are experiencing an organic crisis of democracy, international in scope. This conference will draw together intellectuals and activists from across the globe to examine and explore different dimensions of that crisis. The speakers will venture into a deeper analysis of the political forces and dynamics at work, with an eye to identifying opportunities in the resistance as well as dangers. October 5-6, 2017, Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. Watch the sessions.

  • "TEACHER STRIKE!" Book Discussion & Reception

    Event Date

    A wave of teacher strikes in the 1960s and 1970s roiled urban communities. Jon Shelton illuminates how this tumultuous era helped shatter the liberal-labor coalition and opened the door to the neoliberal challenge at the heart of urban education today. Join us for a book discussion and reception on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 4:30 -6:30 pm. 555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. Register Here.

  • The Challenge of Precarious Labor

    Event Date

    December 5, 2016, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001.  Co-sponsored by AFL-CIO | American Federation of Teachers | The American Prospect  |  DISSENT | Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, Rutgers University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University | New Labor Forum |  United Association for Labor Education    More information and to view the conference sessions, go here.

  • New Visions of Collective Bargaining in American Education

    Event Date

    May 11, 2016. When the first collective bargaining agreements in American education were negotiated a half century ago, they were largely focused on wages, working conditions and due process. School district officials resisted the inclusion of educational issues as encroachments on “management prerogatives.” Meanwhile, the fledging teacher unions modelled themselves after progressive unions, such as the United Auto Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, using industrial-style contracts as a template for their own collective bargaining. But the democratic idea that teachers should have a collective voice in their educational workplace could not be contained within such limited parameters. For a generation, teacher unions have struggled, with increasing success, to expand collective bargaining into the professional sphere. Our panel will investigate some of the most promising efforts on that front around the country, as teacher unions find new ways to negotiate contracts for educational innovation and improvement and build new partnerships with community around that work. Watch the video.

  • Eugenia Kemble Research Grants

    In honor of its founding executive director, the Albert Shanker Institute announces the creation of the “Eugenia Kemble Research Grants Program.” Tax-deductible donations to this program are welcome. Please make donations through PayPal or by check to the Albert Shanker Institute (555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001). More information. Watch the Memorial Service.

  • The Albert Shanker Institute Research Grant Program

    The Shanker Institute awards small seed grants to emerging scholars doing promising work in our focus areas of education, labor and international democracy.

  • The Global State of Workers Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World

    The Shanker Institute conceived of and supported the creation of a first-of-its-kind map of labor freedom in the world, by Freedom House and a report entitled: “The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World” which examined the conditions in 165 countries.

  • American Labor in U.S. History Textbooks

    The study conducted by the Institute in cooperation with the American Labor Studies Center (ALSC) makes the argument that labor history is central to an accu

  • Why We Need New Workplace Partnerships for Skills Development

    This report, signed by a diverse group of labor, business and policy experts, calls for far-reaching changes in the way our country manages its work-force skills and training efforts.

  • Finding Their Voices/Professionals and Workforce Representation

    A significant percentage of unorganized professionals would like to be represented in their workplaces by a union or some other type of “employee organization.” This conclusion, drawn from two Shanker Institute-sponsored studies, comes in spite of the fact that many professionals hold a stereotypical view of unions as overly confrontational.

  • Professional Workers, Unions, and Associations: Affinities and Antipathies

    This paper, by Richard Hurd, director of labor studies at Cornell University, explores the changing nature of professional work, examines the attitudes of pr

  • Keeping Public Education Together

    In the essay, Al talks about his lifelong dedication to "gaining collective bargaining rights for teachers and using the collective bargaining process to improve teachers’ salaries and working conditions." He also makes it clear that the teacher union movement always had an equally important aim: making schools work better for kids. His tireless efforts, during the past 15 years or so, on behalf of high standards of conduct and achievement and against the fads and follies that threaten to destroy public education were not an "about face" but a logical extension of his trade unionism.
     
    The essay closes with Al’s reflections on the reasons for his long fight to preserve and strengthen public education.
  • Adding Rooms to the 'House of Labor '

    The AFL-CIO is often called the House of Labor.
  • Strikesgiving

    October has ended with Scranton educators and Las Cruces bus drivers announcing job actions, along with the on-going strikes of miners in Alabama, nurses in Worcester, MA, hospital workers in Buffalo, NY, 10,000 John Deere workers and  Kelloggs’ workers, but #Striketober is far from over. But we both see this optimistically.

    Certainly these are labor disputes, however, seen in contrast to all the news around The Great Resignation (also known as The Big Quit), these workers are actually demonstrating an enduring commitment to their work via their united voice. These workers have had every opportunity to walk away from their work permanently, like those who have done so amidst the Great Resignation. However, they are using their collective agency to commit to their jobs by telling their employers (after trying every other way of making their point) how to be a place that will retain them and how to make their workplaces better. These workers are so committed to their work that they are willing to strike to get their employers’ attention, and to make their work bearable so they don’t have to quit. They are walking out rather than walking away and by doing so, giving their employers the opportunity not to be another Big Quit statistic.

    At 6 percent, U.S. private sector collective bargaining is near the bottom of the world’s democracies. In part the quit rate celebrated in the media is directly connected to the slugfest with employers that workers must endure in order to organize and bargain. Passage of the PRO (Protect the Right to Organize) Act and further reforms would help, along with increasing union support for the organizing upsurge now evident across the private sector.

  • A Continued Commitment To The Common Good

    I am proud to announce my position as Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute on Labor Day. Labor Day is the federal holiday dedicated to workers, and it signals both a traditional back to school and a traditional start to election season. The Albert Shanker Institute is a think tank dedicated to voices for working people, strong public education, and freedom of association in the public life of democracies. These ideals are interdependent. 

    Strong public schools are the foundation of our democracy. Workers’ voices—in their workplaces, professions, and at the ballot box—contribute to a vibrant democracy. A resilient and sustainable democracy protects and secures the voices of workers, the right to participate in our democracy, and the support of our public schools as a common good. I am honored to be immersing myself in this confluence of ideals at a time when our collective recommitment to the common good would create so much mutual progress in our communities, our country, and our world. ASI has a mission to generate ideas, foster candid exchanges and promote constructive policy proposals related to public education, worker voice, and democracy. Ideas, candid exchanges, and constructive policy proposals are all necessary avenues to our cooperative commitment to progress to the common good. My lived experience and my study of history convinces me that the triad of strong public education, healthy worker voice, and a vibrant democracy can make progress for all unstoppable. I relish the opportunity to convene great and divergent thinkers and successful activists to make meaning, shape plans, and accomplish policy to improve people’s lives across our country.

  • Building Power, For Teachers And Educational Justice

    For nine years, I have served as the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute. Over this period of time, the Institute has done much work in our mission themes of public education, trade unionism and democracy advocacy. It has built a record and a reputation which makes all of us who work here—and everyone in the American Federation of Teachers, with which we are affiliated—quite proud.

    One of the important responsibilities of leadership is to know when the time has come to turn over the stewardship of the work you have achieved and the organization you have nurtured to a younger and fresher generation. Social justice work is a relay race, and as much as we do our individual best on our own leg, it is the race that is important, not our personal performance. When the time comes to pass the baton to the next runner, fresh and ready, we should not hesitate. That is why, earlier this year, I told my long-time and dear friend Randi Weingarten that the time for a new Executive Director of the Shanker Institute had come. At the last meeting of the AFT’s Executive Council, I tendered my resignation, and the Council elected Mary Cathryn Ricker as the Institute’s new leader. As of July 1, I have moved to the AFT proper, where I will be an assistant to the president.

    At these junctures in our lives, we are often moved to reflect on what has been accomplished, and what is being passed on to those who follow us.

  • A Tribute To Nat LaCour

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman Hill, staff coordinator of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma Hill, a former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is also the former civil and human rights director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

    “Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” - Robert Baden-Powell

    No words in any earthly language can adequately express our aching sorrow and heartbreak upon learning of the recent passing of our dear, dear friend and colleague, Nat LaCour. Yet, we must—as he would urge in all things—do our best, and so, in that light, we humbly offer tribute to this remarkable man and his undying legacy.

    At this time of both grief and celebration of Nat’s long and fruitful life, we add our voices to the great chorus of sympathies pouring forth to cherish his memory. We particularly extend a special embrace and comfort to Connie, Nat’s wife and true partner, and their children.

    The world, as we know and love it, will never be the same without Nat’s steady, tireless hand guiding and protecting progress for the many; all the while, illuminating the way with his reassuring smile.

  • A Black Policeman's Sister On Police Reform And Police Unions

    My late brother was a police officer and, before his retirement, our late grandfather was the Acting Commissioner of Public Safety in the U.S. Virgin Islands. So it’s fair to say that I come from a police friendly family. Before coming to work for the Shanker Institute and before that, the AFT, I worked for the AFL-CIO alongside trade unionists from all trades and professions. So it makes it all the more painful to see the asinine responses that police unions have had to charges of police bias and brutality toward African Americans, especially since these charges can so easily be proven to be valid (see hereherehere and here). And, as the mother of a Black male teen, I am terrified to send him out into the world where his very existence may be seen as a threat (see herehere and here).

    One of ironies here is that recent calls to “defund the police” and “reform the police,” if executed with rational foresight, would actually go a long way to making the job easier for rank and file police officers. I remember my brother telling me that the call he hated the very most was responding to a person who was having a psychiatric episode. He thought that breaking up a fight or a robbery or even a murder would be preferable, because he had been trained how to respond in those situations. With mental instability, he had no clue: Should he try to talk them down? If they were violent, what was the proper use of force? How should he defend himself and others? Or should he just wait for medical personnel to arrive? In every case, he had to play it by ear. The call to “defund the police” is not actually a call to abolish police departments, as some on the Right have claimed. Instead, it’s a proposal to move some police funding to other municipal agencies that have more expertise in addressing the social ills that are now dumped on police departments as a last resort—such as mental disability, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. The proposal, then, is to strengthen local social services to the point that they can relieve police forces of some of the functions that they are disastrously ill equipped to handle.

  • Remembering Eugenia Kemble

    One year ago yesterday, former Shanker Institute executive director Eugenia Kemble passed away after a long fight with cancer. Here we reprint a piece that she wrote on the occasion of her retirement in 2012, in which she reflects on her time in the labor movement.

    I hope you will accept a few reflections from an old-timer as I leave the Albert Shanker Institute, which was launched with the support of the American Federation of Teachers in 1998, a year after Al’s death.

    I started in 1967 as a cub reporter for New York’s Local 2 and have worked for the AFT, the AFL-CIO, and the Albert Shanker Institute since 1975, so I have been on duty for awhile. I was particularly grateful for the decision to create the Shanker Institute.  It has become a very special kind of forum – directed by an autonomous board of directors to ensure its independence – where, together with a broad spectrum of colleagues from both inside and outside the union, core ideas, positions, and practices could be discussed, examined, modeled, and debated.  Its inquisitive nature and program attempt to capture a key feature of Al Shanker’s contribution to union leadership.  As a result, the Institute’s work has helped many, including me, to reach a clearer understanding of the essential character of the AFT, unionism, public education, and of democracy itself, as well as what about them we hope will endure.

  • Teacher Insurgency: What Are The Strategic Challenges?

    The following post was the basis for a talk by Leo Casey, the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, which was delivered at “The Future of American Labor” conference held February 8th and 9th in Washington, D.C. 

    There is every reason to celebrate the “Teacher Spring” strikes of 2018 and the more recent strikes in Los Angeles and Chicago’s charter schools. They provide ample evidence that American teachers will not acquiesce to the evisceration of public education, to the dismantling of their unions and to the impoverishment of the teaching profession. A powerful new working class movement is taking shape, with American teachers in the lead. But to sustain the momentum of this movement and to build upon it, we must not only celebrate, but also reflect and think strategically – we must address the strategic challenges this movement now faces. 

    Today, I want to focus on two strategic questions posed by this “Teacher Insurgency:”

    • First, how mobilization differs from organization, the changing relationship between the two and what that means for our work; and
    • Second, the relationship between protest, direct action and strikes, on the one hand, and the struggle for political power, focused on elections, on the other, as well as the role both play in our work.

    At the outset, I want to be clear that my approach is a broad one, viewing the current movement not only through the lens of labor history and working class struggles, but also as part of the history of protest movements as a whole, with a particular emphasis on the civil rights movement. There are many reasons for this approach, but one particularly compelling reason lies in the intimate connections between the civil rights movement and America’s public sector unions, including teacher unions. We know, of course, that Martin Luther King was an ardent supporter of the labor movement, and was assassinated in Memphis while he was organizing support for striking sanitation workers in an AFSCME local, and that A. Philip Randolph was both a labor leader and a civil rights leader. But what is perhaps less understood is that the leaders of the teacher unions and public sector unions in the 1960s, the period during which they became established, formidable forces, were often veterans of the civil rights movement. And most of these leaders drew upon their experiences as civil rights activists as they organized their unions.

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Labor Law Reform

    This month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was working in support of the union rights of striking African American sanitation workers. We thought it was an opportune time to reprint this July 17, 1977 piece, in which Al Shanker turned over his weekly column to his friend and mentor Bayard Rustin, advisor to King on nonviolent protest strategies, chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and founding president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

    The nation's labor laws need to be reformed to give workers a fair chance to organize. Enlightened opinion has long recognized that unions are essential if workers are to have any hope of dealing on an equal basis with their employers.

    The nation's basic labor relations policy was expressed in the Wagner Act of 1935 as "encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining" and "protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization and designation of representatives of their own choosing." The Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin amendments to the Wagner Act undermined those principles by creating an imbalance in favor of employers.

    Although companies no longer employ the brutal anti-union methods of the past, many have adopted a sophisticated arsenal of devices -- legal, illegal, and extralegal -- to interfere with and frustrate the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.