Public Sector Unions

  • New Visions of Collective Bargaining in American Education

    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.

  • Organizing the Workers of Walmart: From Bentonville to Beijing

    Speakers will discuss campaigns to organize the workers of Walmart, in the United States and in China. They include Han Dongfang, Nelson Lichtenstein, Ph.D., Yi Duan, and Emily Stewart.

  • In Defense of the Public Square

    A robust and vibrant public square is an essential foundation of democracy. It is the place where the important public issues of the day are subject to free and open debate, and our ideas of what is in the public interest take shape.

  • Is There A Pension Crisis?

    Elected officials seeking to diminish the pensions of public sector employees have argued that they are responding to a fiscal crisis. Is this crisis real or contrived?

  • American Labor Movement at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies

    This conference examines new thinking and new initiatives in labor organizing, viewing them critically in the light of ongoing union imperatives of cultivating member activism and involvement, fostering democratic self-governance and building the collective power of working people.

  • Good Schools VI / Multiple Measures of Teacher Performance: What Does It Mean? How Is It Implemented?

    The quest to define and measure teacher effectiveness has sparked useful research on many different fronts, using different means to gauge various important outcomes. But it has also prompted many ieffective, punitive redesigns of teacher evaluation systems. How do we create a system that is clear, fair, and useful for improving practice?

  • Creating Jobs: Delivering Education and Skills; Expanding Labor’s Role

    This June 2008 meeting focused on three priorities: (1) the need for a seamless web of providers from high schools to community colleges and universities to unions and employers; (2) technology and how teaching is delivered; and (3) access to learning in multiple settings.

  • Unions and Workforce Development (a discussion with John Monks)

    This is the transcript of a 2003 luncheon discussion on the revitalization of the labor movement with John Monks, general secretary of Britain's Trades Union Congress (TUC).

  • 'Shanker Lecture' Given By Hong Kong Democracy Leader

    The late Szeto Wah, founder of Hong Kong's teachers' union, was the featured speaker at the Institute's Albert Shanker Lecture on May 15, 2002. Szeto, labeled "democracy's foot soldier" by Time magazine, told the Washington, D.C., crowd that Shanker was a mentor from whom he learned how to combine professionalism and labor rights to build a union and how to employ trade unionism to build democracy.

  • 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.

  • Remembering Memphis

    February marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tenn., a unionization attempt by public sector workers that drew support from civil and labor rights leaders across the nation. Martin Luther King, Jr., in town to organize a march in support of those strikers, was assassinated on April 4th of that year. This post is the first in a series, commemorating these anniversaries and the historic links between civil rights and worker rights, especially at a time when the right of public sector workers to unionize is being argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This post is excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain, by civil rights and labor activists Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill.

    Even as a young man, A. Philip Randolph understood that the economic wellbeing of workers and the political rights of African Americans were inextricably linked. It is one of the reasons why, in the 1920s, he agreed to organize and operate the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black-led labor union to receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor.

    It was his recognition of this coalescence of black economic and political interests that led him to threaten the first March on Washington in the 1940s; which was only preempted when President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to issue Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in Civil Service and World War II defense industries. And it was why he named the iconic 1963 march on Washington, which he organized and led, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The complete title wasn't an accident. Randolph understood that the economic component was essential in obtaining freedom and equality for black people.

  • Teacher, Democrat, Union Chief

    The seventh author in our series of guest posts commemorating the 20th anniversary of Al Shanker's death is Eugenia Kemble, president of the Foundation for Democratic Education and founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute. You can find the other posts in this series here.

    We are now at a time when basic freedoms are threatened, public education is systematically attacked and unions are crumbling. More than at any time since Al Shanker's death 20 years ago, this remarkable teacher’s most important legacy needs our attention.

    At the core of this legacy was Shanker's fixation on the idea and practice of democracy. It bubbled up to the top of his agenda early and raw from a mix of personal experiences, including anti-Semitic bigotry, the tough working life of his parents, and the voiceless experience of teaching in schools run by autocrats. And it was refined by exhaustive reading of such pragmatist philosophers as John Dewey and Charles Saunders Pierce, religious theorist, Reinhold Neihbur, the anti-communist, Sidney Hook, sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset and many, many, many more.

    Al believed that union leadership was democracy leadership — in the running of the union, and in its role as a defender of public education, free trade unionism and political democracy here and around the world.

  • A Father And A Fighter

    The fifth author in our series of guest posts commemorating the 20th anniversary of Al Shanker's death is his daughter Jennie Shanker, adjunct professor at Temple University, and a member of the Temple adjunct organizing committee. Eadie, Adam, and Michael Shanker also contributed to the piece. You can find the other posts in this series here.

    It’s been 20 years since my father passed away at the age of 68, and he’s still not far from the thoughts of family and friends. The many incredible events of the past year have made his presence palpable for us at times, as the repercussions of the election unfold in the news.  

    His life’s trajectory was formed by the personal struggles of his family, the lens through which he saw the world. His parents were immigrants who moved to this country to escape the pogroms in their home territory between Poland and Russia. His mother came over on a boat at the age of 16 with her mother, arriving after weeks at sea with pink eye. She was denied entry into the country and was forced to turn back. She returned by herself a year or so later and settled in NYC. She worked behind sewing machines, rotating between different sweatshops that hired her for short periods of time. Her long hours of hard work, lack of decent working conditions, low pay and lack of job security led her to the unions of her day.

    My father attended public schools in NYC, speaking only Yiddish in the first grade. He was unusually tall as a kid, had a large port-wine stain birthmark on his neck, and he was a Jew. Hitler’s Germany would have an ongoing presence in his family life.

  • In Search Of Tough Liberals In The Age Of Trump: Remembering Al Shanker

    The next author in our series of guest posts commemorating the 20th anniversary of Al Shanker's death is Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2007). You can find the other posts in this series here.

    I met Albert Shanker in September 1995, just a year and a half before his untimely death.  I made an appointment to interview him for a book I was writing on affirmative action policies in college admissions.  My father, who taught high school, used to clip Shanker’s columns in the Sunday New York Times and share them with me.  So I was excited to meet the man whose writing on education, labor, civil rights and democracy spoke to me so profoundly.

    Shanker cut an imposing figure.  He was 6’4” with a deep voice and his office at the American Federation of Teachers had an impressive view of the Capitol.  He wasn’t one for small talk so we got right down to business.  On the issue of affirmative action, I strongly identified with Shanker’s position – wanting to find a way to remedy our nation’s egregious history of racial discrimination but simultaneously wanting to avoid a backlash from working-class whites, who also had a rightful claim to special consideration that racial preferences failed to acknowledge.