Confronting Teacher Union Power by David Y. Denholm
There is a growing awareness that America's system of public education is in trouble. Not only are scores on standardized tests low but colleges are reporting that record numbers of students are in need of remedial classes upon reaching college and employers complain that high school graduates are unemployable because they do not possess the basic skills of reading, writing and figuring at a level sufficient to perform routine entry level work.
This disaffection with the quality of public education and the apparent futility of meaningful reform is beginning to challenge the very precepts upon which America's system of public education is based.
Too many in the education establishment are in denial. They insist that the public schools are doing a good job of educating students. Even parents who say that they think public education is not what it should be are very pleased with their own schools. But, the obvious need for improvement in public education is encouraging many people to become active in promoting reforms and improvements in the schools. Unfortunately, when they consider "education reform" issues, they do not give enough consideration to teacher unions. This is misguided because teacher unions are a very powerful force in determining education policy. All too often, the unions are dismissed as dealing only with personnel policy, which too many people don't really see as "education" policy.
This ignores the fact that the unions are involved in virtually every aspect of education. Whether it is curriculum, text book selection, discipline or particularly the cost of education, the unions are very concerned and have a profound influence.
All too often, the proponents of reform, because they fear to appear to be "anti-union," refuse to confront the power of the teacher unions. They want to believe the problems can be solved without confronting the power of the teacher unions. In doing so, they fall right into the unions' hands because the teacher unions have an undeserved reputation for supporting quality public education.
Indeed, if anything is ever going to be done to make meaningful changes in education and restore the quality of public education in America, teacher union power much be confronted.
So, I hope that I can set the stage for you today by saying that, if you are concerned about the future of public education, you must confront teacher union power.
Teacher union power is based on membership, money and prestige. When you begin to attack these sources of power, you must expect a reaction. Most of what follows is about the reaction and how to deal with it.
In the 3rd edition of my booklet, Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way, I added an appendix on Saul Alinsky. It leads off with a quote from John Lloyd who is a former National Education Association Uniserv Director and the former executive director of an NEA state affiliate. He says,
"To understand the NEA - to understand the union - read Saul Alinsky. If you read Rules for Radicals, you will understand the NEA more profoundly than reading anything else. Because the whole organization was modeled on that kind of behavior which was really begun when NEA used Saul Alinsky as a consultant to train their own staff."
Listen to what Alinsky has to say in Rules for Radicals about the qualities of an organizer. He says, an organizer understands that,
"Before men can act, an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 percent on the side of the devil."
And, further in discussing how this applied in a particular case, Alinsky said,
"Many liberals, during our attack on the then school superintendent, were pointing out that after all he wasn't a 100 per cent devil, he was a regular churchgoer, he was a good family man, and he was generous in his contributions to charity. Can you imagine in the arena of conflict charging that so-and-so is a racist bastard and then diluting the impact of the attack with qualifying remarks such as 'He is a good churchgoing man, generous to charity, and a good husband'? This becomes political idiocy."
This was an example of one of Alinsky's rules that is very troublesome to public officials, "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it." I've included a list of Alinsky's rules at the back of this paper. In his book, Alinsky admits that any of these tactics could be defeated if they were perceived for what they really were. Rules For Radicals is worth reading. These rules are worth studying.
Now, I realize that I am speaking to an audience with widely different backgrounds and coming from many areas of the state.
I also realize that many of you may not have given unionism much thought, so I want to give you just a little bit of background on what has been happening to the union movement in America over the last 40 years.
In the mid 1950s unionism in the private sector was almost forty percent of the work force and in the public sector it was about ten percent.
In the mid 1990s these figures are reversed. In the public sector it is almost forty percent and in the private sector it is about ten percent.
This is having a profound impact on the union movement. They know that their future is in the public sector and since so much of public employment is in education, that means that public school employee unionism, particularly teacher unionism, is becoming an increasingly important topic.
This interest in the public sector and the confrontational tactics used will undoubtedly be increased as a result of the election of John J. Sweeney as the president of the AFL-CIO in October 1995.
One of his key supporters in this election was Gerald McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the biggest public sector union in the AFL-CIO.
Sweeney was the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a union with substantial public sector membership, which became notorious for militant -- in your face and in the streets -- activity. In July, when the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors was considering reducing the size of the payroll, Sweeney told them that his union would conduct a "massive campaign of resistance and retribution." To show he was serious, he arranged a demonstration of 3,000 union members at which 20 were arrested for blocking traffic.
With this new (old fashion) radical attitude now at the helm of the union movement, I expect to see a great deal more militancy from the public sector unions.
The growth of teacher unions has been very much a part of this growth in public sector unionism. Between 1963 and 1993 teacher union membership increased by 300% from 963,720 to 3,100,000.
You also need to know that the teacher unions have undergone a transformation. There was a time when the National Education Association was truly a professional association of educators. This began to change in the early 1960's when, in order to protect education from the "union" -- the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO -- the NEA transformed itself into a union. Until that time, the NEA had been a broad-based professional association of educators which included teachers, administrators, professors of education and virtually anyone else with a professional interest in education. During this transition control of that union was captured by radical liberal elements, who still dominate it today.
One of the major factors in the growth of the NEA as a union was the adoption of a policy of unified dues in 1974. Prior to that several state affiliates had already adopted a unified dues policy. Before unified dues, it was possible for a teacher to belong to a local classroom teachers' association without also being a member of a state or national association. Under unified dues, in order to belong to the local association a teacher was also required to belong to both the national organization and its state affiliate.
The battle over unification actually cost the NEA support initially as teachers who desired to join a local or state affiliate but not the national organization dropped out, but the long term effect was a substantial growth in teacher union membership. Unification greatly increased the financial resources of the national organization.
The first and most important influence of unionism on education is collective bargaining. The growth of unionism in education coincided with passage of state laws giving teacher unions monopoly bargaining privileges. This gave the unions the power to demand recognition as bargaining agents and exclusive representation over all teachers in the newly formed bargaining units.
The California situation on this is a bit murky, at least from the information available from NEA Handbooks. The NEA has changed the way it reports this information over the years. In 1971 the NEA reported that there were 175,258 members of its California state affiliate and that 67.7 percent of them, or 115,636 were NEA members. You can see in the following table the toll the unification battle took on the NEA's membership and the tremendous impact the 1975 passage of California's education employee compulsory collective bargaining law -- The Rodda Act -- which gave the teacher union monopoly bargaining power and sanctioned agency shop fees, had on the NEA's membership.
Until this point the NEA made no distinction about the role of the members. In 1983, the NEA Handbook began reporting K- 1 2 membership and dividing it between Instructional and Educational Support. In 1985 the NEA Handbook added Active and Life members to the Instructional category for the purpose of reporting membership. In 1989, these figures were consolidated in a single number. I suspect that this was to disguise the extent to which the NEA's membership was no longer teaching personnel.
Given this sort of limitation on the data, here's a picture of the NEA's membership in California from 1971 to 1994.
California NEA Membership 1971-1994
|Year||Total NEA Members|
|Instructional||Educational Support||Total K-12|
|Instructional Active & Life||Educational Support|
Apparently, some of the above membership figure fluctuations were a result of changing NEA rules on who could be considered a member. For example, the drop between 1984 and 1985 is probably a result of the fact that there were still some members of the California Teachers Association who no longer qualified to be NEA members.
It took the NEA almost twenty years to increase its total membership in California to what membership in its state affiliate had been before the drive for unification, but since then, it has surpassed it. In total, the power of the teacher union has increased and with that increase in power has come problems.
The most severe problems with teacher unionism come from the major urban and suburban areas and are not so severe, or in some cases, don't exist at all in small town America. That is not to say that teacher union political influence is not a problem in these areas, but that some of the examples I cite won't apply everywhere and you must be careful to be sure that how you conduct your campaign is tailored to your own community and its experiences
I have spoken with many teachers who are NEA members who assure me that the things I complain about are simply not a problem 'in their schools; that the contract clauses I find so offensive are not in their contracts; and that they ignore the "advice" they get from the NEA, its state affiliate and the Uniserv Representatives.
At the same time, I have spoken with school board members and school administrators from small town America who were positively shocked by the way teachers who get involved with the unions behave under different circumstances. This demonstrates Alinsky's influence on the NEA.
Your next door neighbor could be a good friend and a school teacher, but in the role of teacher union president or union negotiator, become an entirely different person. one who you would not think you even know.
But this sort of attitude is certainly not representative of all teachers -- and the unions know it.
We know that most teachers are not union zealots, even though they are members. Many teachers, perhaps even most teachers, are not union zealots. Many, in fact, do not agree with the teacher unions on a great many things. The unions know this, too.
The National Education Association has done surveys of the opinion of its members. In 1982, 1 received -- over the transom -- a copy of the hard data on two NEA surveys of the opinion of its members conducted in 1980 before and after the election of Ronald Reagan. The results were very revealing.
For example, the NEA found that
as many of its members voted for Ronald Reagan (44%) as did for Jimmy Carter (44%);
that more NEA members identified themselves as conservatives (27%) than liberals (21%); and
that, while a majority, (57%) of NEA members "trust" the NEA. a substantial minority (29%) did "not trust" it.
The fact that in many states, where teachers cannot be forced to support the NEA as a condition of employment, there are large viable alternative organizations challenging the NEA, is another indication that the NEA does not enjoy the support of at least a substantial minority of teachers.
These alternative organizations, by the way, are a growing phenomenon, so much so, that at its 1993 National Convention the NEA revealed a plan to attack them.
These organizations provide teachers an alternatives to the unions exclusive, adversarial approach.
In the process of confronting union power, you may be contacted by teachers who are union members and who deplore the way the union behaves. You can do these teachers and yourself a favor by making sure they are aware of these alternative organizations.
I have seen teacher union correspondence from one state dealing with the fact that 58 percent of the teachers are Republicans and wondering how to use this to gain greater influence for the union in the Republican party.
Please note that they were not trying to figure out how the teachers who were Republicans could have greater influence in the Union.
The NIFA knows that about 50 percent of its members voted for Republicans for Congress in the 1994 elections. Yet the NEA's political action committee, which is the 5th largest PAC in the nation and gave $2,260,850 to candidates for federal office in the 1994 elections, gave 99 percent of it to Democrats.
You may ask, why do the teacher unions have such radical leadership, if it doesn't represent the teachers?
Two reasons! And understanding them is important to how you conduct your education reform efforts.
First, because in any organization those people who aspire to leadership generally have the grandest view of what the organization can, or at least ought to be able to, accomplish.
Translated into teacher unionism -- those who aspire to leadership in the union will have the grandest vision of what the union should be and what it should do.
Second, because no matter what they say, much of the direction of the teacher unions is from the top down rather than from the bottom up. The Uniserv Representative can spot a teacher who has the potential to become a union zealot and encourage that person to strive for a leadership position by making sure that he or she is aware of training opportunities, etc.
You may also ask, if the union leadership is so out of step with so many teachers, why do they belong to the unions? There are several answers to this question. And, you need to understand them, too.
First of all, many teachers, particularly older teachers, are still not convinced that the NEA or its state affiliate have become a militant, left-wing union. They still think of it as a "professional" association.
Secondly, insurance! Teachers are told from the time they are in college that they must have professional liability insurance -- insurance to cover them in the event they are sued by a parent. They are convinced that they can only get this through the union.
This is really tragic. The value of the insurance is about $20 a year and the average teacher is paying more than $400 a year in union dues. The alternative organizations I've mentioned provide comparable, if not better professional liability insurance and their dues are generally $100 a year or less.
And, there is another sad truth in this. Money has become the measure of all things in education and as much as the school administration may dislike the union's power in the district, they love the union's political power when it comes to getting voter approval for bond issues and lobbying the state legislature for more money, so they have ulterior motives for encouraging teachers to support the union.
And, then there is the final reason that many teachers who do not agree with the union are members. Let's call it peer pressure!
The ability of union zealots to make life miserable for teachers who do not toe the union line is tremendous.
Some of the examples of teacher union treatment of teachers are truly horrible. I have spoken with many teachers about these experiences and they can't tell about them without breaking down in tears.
Sometimes it is as simple as finding that nobody will sit next to them in the lunch room or as mean and petty as finding that it is impossible to get any cooperation from fellow teachers on simple but important matters in the school.
Sometimes it is vandalistic like, slashed tires or tacks scattered in their driveway. I spoke to one teacher who had the brake lines on her car cut but fortunately found out about it as she was trying to back out of her parking space.
Sometimes it is heartbreakingly mean and vicious, like skinning a pet cat and nailing it to the garage door.
Here's one example of a typical union tactic in a school where the union had too much power.
In a district in Pennsylvania the teacher union hung a banner in the teacher lounge called the "Wall of Shame," and underneath were what was described to me as "insulting drawings" were the names of six teachers and one aide who helped students during the strike. At the bottom of the banner it said "People who helped prolong the strike." The Administration didn't have the guts to insist that this disgusting banner be removed.
Keep in mind, too, that in areas where the teacher union is the exclusive bargaining representative and there is a union contract, the contract gives the union considerable control over the teachers employment destiny.
The union frequently has the exclusive right to represent the teachers in questions like assignment, promotion and transfer. A teacher will have to think twice before crossing the union bosses, if they think they might some day have to deal with a question like this through the union.
And, this power manifests itself in teacher political activity.
A school board member in Michigan told me that she had been a room mother for a teacher while two of her children had gone through her class in successive years. Afterward, she heard that the teacher had been unable to recruit a new room mother so she volunteered in the same class with the same teacher for several more years.
When she ran for school board, the teacher sent out "Friendship Cards" to parents endorsing her opponent. When she asked her why she tearfully explained that she didn't want to do it but she felt that she had to because the union insisted. The union gave her the cards to sign and then she had to give them back to the union for the union to mail. She didn't feel that she had a choice.
And, this ability to coerce political support for the union position is not limited to the union coercing political action from teachers. They also do not hesitate to coerce the students and their parents.
Not long ago, in Montgomery County, Maryland, there was a dispute between the union and the school board about school funding. The school board took the position that there just wasn't any money left to fulfill union demands and that the voters were not in a mood to approve higher taxes.
The union instigated a "work to rule" program which included having teacher refuse to write letters of recommendation to colleges for seniors, unless the student could prove that their parents had written a letter to the school board urging the board to increase taxes for the schools.
These despicable tactics are not limited to teachers.
Recently, I spoke with a former school board member who had served on the board during a bitter and protracted dispute with the union.
She told me that she had children in the public schools and that the teachers singled them out in class, to harass and humiliate them, because of the stance she took on the issue. Her children would come home from school in tears. They didn't understand what was happening to them.
The principal was either too incompetent or too cowardly to do anything to stop the problem so she transferred her children to private schools. As soon as she did, the union launched a vicious attack against her saying she was unfit to hold public office because she had so little faith in the public schools, she sent her children to private schools.
And, sometimes the intimidation is not limited to verbal abuse. Going back to Alinsky, he taught that "the end justifies almost any means" and that "the morality of means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory." With these guidelines almost any means is moral.
In May 1993, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, NEA, was quoted in the papers as saying, "Sometimes you have to break a law to change a law, if people don't listen to you."
In November 1993, a tape recording was made of a car phone conversation between a Pennsylvania State Education Association union official and a local teacher union president in which the local union president said that if the board didn't offer more than a 3 percent a year raise, "we're going to have to go to their homes and blow off their front porches."
When confronted with this tape recording, the PSEA President said she was "appalled", because it was "illegal" to record car phone conversations.
In early 1994, in another school district near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the teacher union was in a dispute with the school board, the house of a school board member was torched. They never caught the arsonist.
So far as I know, the union president hasn't made any comment about being "appalled" about this arson or whether it is "illegal" to set someone's house on fire.
Many teachers deplore the fact that the relationship between the union and the school board is so adversarial but they get most of that information from the union, so it's easy to understand why they may think that the real blame for the situation belongs to the administration and the board.
Communication with teachers:
Just like the warden said in Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
The unions know that many teachers don't approve of their coercive, militant and confrontational tactics. Keep in mind that while the teachers are not the union, the union has much better communication with the teachers than anyone else, including and perhaps I should say, especially, the school boards, and that the union portrays any attack on the union as an attack on the teachers.
The monopoly union bargaining laws make it an "Unfair Labor Practice" for the school board to "negotiate with other than the exclusive representative."
The teacher unions, in order to insure that their monopoly on communications is protected, have carried this to great extremes.
Teachers in Madison, Wisconsin, who were opposed to a union demand for an agency shop provision in the union contract circulated a petition, which ultimately was signed by a majority of the teachers. The leader of this group of teachers took the petition to a regularly scheduled school board meeting which was open to the public and read the petition to the school board.
The union filed an "unfair labor practice charge against the school board for "negotiating with other than the exclusive representative." That charge was upheld by the state public employee relations board, the local state court and the state supreme court before it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. I'm proud to say that the Public Service Research Council was an amicus in that case on the side of the teachers. That was in the mid 1970's.
I have spoken with a school board member from a small school district who told me that he had been appointed the chairman of the boards personnel committee and that in an effort to get input from the employees, not filtered by the unions or the administration, he had put up suggestion boxes in the schools.
The union filed an "unfair labor practice" for "negotiating with other than the exclusive representative." The board made him remove the boxes. Keep in mind that the suggestions which might have been put in these boxes could have dealt with anything about the schools. not just employment matters.
I told him that removing the boxes was silly because the unions charge would never have been upheld. He said that the local paper had reported the charge in a way that made it appear that he had committed some sort of crime and that the school board was unwilling to spend any money defending itself against the charge before the public employee relations board.
The cost to the district would have been substantial and the union would have attacked them for wasting the taxpayers money trying to defend their "illegal" act.
"What about the teachers and other school employees?" I asked him. He said that the union just told them that they had succeeded in keeping the school board from engaging in "union busting" activity and never mentioned the fact that it had anything to do with the suggestion boxes being removed from the schools.
There are undoubtedly things that school boards intent on regaining control of the schools from the teacher unions ought to be doing that are "illegal" under existing laws. Here I must harken back to Saul Alinsky. Alinsky taught his apostles of radicalism that you could count on your opponents to obey the rules and that you gained an advantage by not obeying the rules.
Time and time again, the teacher unions have broken the laws to achieve their goals. And, they have covered their hypocrisy with the familiar old refrain that they don't like being forced to break the law but "We're doing it for the children."
It is high time that school board members adopt the same tactic. I would love to see public officials say, "We don't like having to break the law but, we're doing it for the children."
Please keep in mind that even though many, perhaps even most teachers, don't support the union, there will be a small, very zealous minority who are thoroughly dedicated to the union's position. This small, very zealous minority can be a big factor when confronting teacher union power.
You are not going to be able to convert or even neutralize the union zealots. Don't try. If you do, you will become frustrated and it will distract you from your own concerns.
Remember that many members of the community will have strong, good, personal feelings about the teachers.
Just as the unions will try to use what you say about the union to turn the teachers and the community against you, you can use the union's activity and positions to keep your supporters motivated but be careful as you do that you don't give the union any ammunition to use to try to convince others that you are dangerous.
There are several ways you can be prepared to deal with this sort of union behavior. Keep these tactics in mind, and when you see the union accuse the school board of an unfair labor practice, call to congratulate the board members involved and then write a letter to the editor of your local paper urging the school board to spend whatever is necessary to defend itself against the charge.
Here are a few more suggestions for dealing with the union.
The unions operate on ignorance.
If you ask about doing something and you are told that you cannot do it because it is in violation of the collective bargaining law, the PERB's regulations, the union contract, etc. and you believe it, you might stop right there.
The union activists, again following Alinsky's advice, "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules." They assume that if you believe that you shouldn't do something, you won't.
Recently, I spoke to some parents who were participating in school councils and they were very frustrated by how little they could do. One of their chief complaints was that when a suggested action came up, the teacher representative -- read that UNION representative -- on the council would say, "Oh, we can't do that. It's covered by the collective bargaining agreement."
I asked them whether they had ever seen the collective bargaining agreement and none of them had. I asked them how they knew whether the union representative was telling them the truth. They ASSUMED that he was. I couldn't believe it. They were shocked that I thought that the "teacher" might misrepresent something so important to them.
This problem, by the way, is not limited to the unions -- school administrators are just as guilty. Not long ago, I spoke with a school board member about a problem he had with teachers who wanted to present a petition to a school board meeting. The school superintendent had informed the board, on the basis of advice from the school district's attorney, that it would not be legal to allow such a petition to be presented because it would subject them to a charge by the union of "bargaining with other than the exclusive representative."
I told him that such advice was completely contrary to a U.S. Supreme Court decision dating back to the 1970s, which I mentioned earlier. He couldn't believe that the ADMINlSTRATION would not be straight forward with him on something so important.
Don't take anything about the teacher union or the relationship between the union and the district, whether the information comes from the district or the union, at face value.
If you are told it's against the law, ask to see the law.
If you are told it's a violation of PERB regulations, ask to see the regulations.
If you are told it's a violation of the union contract, ask to see the contract.
Get a contact inside the union. In the process of confronting the power of the teacher union, you will probably find a teacher or two who are union members but who support you. Let them know how important it is to you to know what the union is saying about what you are doing and the things the union is doing to thwart them. Ask them to bring you copies of any material the union distributes that might be of use to you.
By the way, you must assume that the union also has done the same thing. Just as we ought to assume that the unions have a contact with us here today. Don't waste time and energy looking. Even if there isn't one, there should be nothing you do that they can use to discredit you. Let's face it, people, you can't say that you want to clean up the mess and then run a dirty operation to accomplish it.
Get a copy of the union contract. Look through it and find the most objectionable contract provisions. If you are asked about the union's opposition to your reforms, refer to these provisions and say that the union may be worried that, if you are successful, they won't get these in the next contract.
Find out how many teachers are actually union members. This could be difficult. The unions traditionally misrepresent this figure because they want to create the impression that all of the teachers support the union. Almost every union member has dues deducted from payroll. You should be able to find out from the administration how many teachers have dues deduction.
In an agency shop state like California, they should be able to tell you how many are actually union members and how many are forced fee payers.
The unions want everyone to think that all the teachers support them. They don't! You can use this information to neutralize union opposition.
Find out the amount of union dues. You may be surprised just how high they are. You can make good use of this information.
The concept of forcing teachers to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment is not a popular one in most areas. If your school district already has an agency shop agreement, let the public know how much teachers are being forced to pay the union in order to teach and suggest that union opposition to reform is motivated by a desire to continue to collect agency shop fees from teachers.
Now, I need to try to make all this relevant for you and I want to leave you with a message I hope will frighten you just a bit.
The teacher unions, which I believe are substantially responsible for the decline in the quality of public education, are adamant that their opposition to reforms is based on the need to preserve and protect public education.
This effort is counterproductive, and if they don't know it, they ought to learn it quickly. America's system of public education is in trouble in more ways than just the obvious ones of the quality of the product.
There is a growing movement against public education -- period.
You can see this in a growing national movement which has its roots right here in California called "Separation of Schools and State." Another indication of this sentiment is the introduction, just the other day, of a bill in the Colorado legislature to repeal the compulsory education law.
I personally feel that America's political, economic and military security depends on a well educated populace and that a strong system of public education is the best way to insure this.
There are undoubtedly grave problems with the public schools. The teacher unions, like the NEA, are undoubtedly responsible for many, but certainly not all, of them.
I fear that some people are beginning to think that the system is broken beyond repair and must be discarded. I do not agree. I believe we must do everything in our power to reinvigorate the system and I see many hopeful signs of change among them, persisting and wide spread indications of failure.
Substantially reducing teacher union power is the essential first step to bringing about needed changes in public education. This is not an easy task, but it must be done.
There are several different groups of people who would support divorcing schools and government. Let's take a look at them.
Radical Libertarians, who you can't really do much about.
Cultural Conservatives, these people are concerned about the values taught or, perhaps more importantly, not taught in public schools. That can be changed, not by changing their minds but by being truly responsive to their legitimate concerns.
The third and I suspect biggest group is the "tax" group. They are not against public education philosophically and they are not "values" driven but they are weary of the cost of public education increasing while the quality of the product continues to decline. The answer of the education establishment always seems to be more money."
The answer that could be the salvation of public education is "less money." You should be bending every effort to find ways to make public education less expensive rather than ways to gain more funds for education.
Saul Alinsky told his disciples that,
The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden agreement with your demand and saying "You're right -- we don't know what to do about this issue. Now you tell us."
I would suggest to you that you must lower the cost of public education to save it and that one of the best ways to confront teacher union power is to ask them for constructive alternatives on how to reduce the cost of public education. Promise them that they can have higher salaries and smaller class sizes, if they will just help you find some way to reduce the total cost of education so that the taxpayers can afford to buy as much of it as they need and want.
Despite the fact that I have focused much of this discussion on Saul Alinsky, I want to caution you that there may be a change in the wind. Recently, at a legislative hearing on a public sector collective bargaining bill, representatives of both local and national unions testified. The local union officials were nowhere near as smooth as the pooh-bahs from Washington. After the hearing, on eof them was overheard in conversation with the representative of another national union as disdainfully saying, "They're still using Alinsky."
More recently, I've noticed that teacher union representatives want to be "reasonable" and desire to co-opt reform efforts by loving them to death. You should be prepared to deal with this, too.
The cause of saving public education is so important that you cannot afford to take the comfortable road of avoiding confrontation with the teacher unions. I hope these ideas are helpful to you in that effort.
Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
(Taken from Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc. New York, 1989.)
Time and again public officials have described their shock and disbelief at what a union had done to them personally during labor disputes. When told that such activity was entirely predictable because it was almost textbook Alinsky, their response has generally been that, if they had only known what to expect, they could have prepared for it and taken steps to neutralize its worst effects.
Here, therefore, is a thumbnail sketch of some of Saul Alinsky's rules for radicals.
Alinsky emphatically states that the end justifies the means but cautions that extreme means are only justified in certain situations. Alinsky used these rules to test whether the means are ethical.
1. One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
2. The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
3. In war the end justifies almost any means.
4. Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
6. The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
7. Generally, success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
8. The morality of means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
9. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition to be unethical.
10. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.
11. Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."
He also had a set of rules for what he called "power tactics" or the means used to "take." He described it as "how the Have Nots can take power away from the Haves."
Here are his rules of power tactics.
1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
3. Whenever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.
4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
8. Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
Even a cursory review of these rules for radicals reveals that a union activist schooled in them will have no compunction about using almost any tactic in a conflict with a public agency. In fact, radicals must often create issues to stir up problems in order to radicalize their potential followers.
With careful forethought any of these tactics can be defeated but in order to do so one must be prepared to play by the same rules as the radicals, which, of course, is a good counter attack to rule number 4 above.
David Denholm is the president of the Public Service Research Foundation, a research and education foundation concerned about the impact of unionism in government on government and union influence on public policy. Other papers by Mr. Denholm include:
Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way
How a School Board Member Can Use a Union Agency Fee to Drive a Wedge Between Teachers and Unions
The Impact of Unionism on the Quality of Public Education
Teacher Union Collective Bargaining and Education Reform
To request copies or more information, please contact: David Denholm, President at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a written request to:
Public Service Research Foundation
320-D Maple Avenue East
Vienna, Virginia 22180
Phone (703) 242-3575
Fax (703) 242-3579