Teacher Union Power in Non-Bargaining States


One would expect teacher union power to be less virulent in states without a monopoly bargaining law, but as West Virginia teacher union officials demonstrate, there is still a world of power to be wielded in politics.  Of course this power pays off as union-funded politicians win office and find themselves in a position to have to “pay” back  teacher unions by doing their bidding once they are in office.  Selfish strikes, legal and illegal can happen in states without bargaining laws also, a lesson for which Mountain States students paid dearly in 2018.

Sarah Jaffe has the story in progressive.org.

Nicole McCormick . . . [became] involved with building for the strike when Jay O’Neal, another teacher from Charleston, West Virginia, reached out to her about helping him launch a Facebook group for teachers.

And now, two years later, McCormick is running for statewide union vice president, alongside O’Neal and three other members of the West Virginia United Caucus, which they created after the 2018 strike.

Since the strike, McCormick stepped back into leadership of the Mercer County Education Association. She also traveled around the United States to speak with other educators and unionists about the power they built through the strike.

Soon, O’Neal was convincing her to run for office, and the caucus was having an internal election to decide between candidates for each position. “It was the neatest election that I had ever experienced because there was no animosity,” she says.

Both Craig and O’Neal spoke of how quickly the “55 United” slogan of the strike—referring to all 55 counties of the state standing together—fell apart after the strike.

In 2018, teachers and school staff were active, taking control (emphasis added), acting as one big statewide union rather than two separate unions that often compete for members. They were making proactive demands, calling for progressive taxation and particularly taxes on the state’s coal and gas industries.

In January 2019, the WV United caucus organized a walk-in protest to educate other teachers and the community about the push for charter schools and diverting public funding to private school vouchers. The teachers launched another strike in February for two days, and temporarily killed a bill allowing charters and vouchers, but it was revived in a summer session and pushed through.

Looking back, O’Neal says, “It felt like as unions we forgot what gave us power.” He wonders now if they’d threatened to refuse to work in the spring, they’d have been able to hold off the charters.