"Democrats will forge a new social and economic contract with the American peoplea contract that... guarantees the right to join or form a union"
- 2020 Democratic Platform
The key to putting a stop to the growth of income inequality is turning around our country's assault on membership in labor unions. "As union membership decreases, middle-class income shrinks," as has been shown in the decades since Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers. Strong unionization not only promotes increased wages, for both union members and those who do not belong to a union, but helps to "promote political participation among all Americans". Falling union participation has the opposite effect as corporations gain more power without adequate counterbalance.
The GOP has long been viewed as the party that supports Corporate America and promotes policies that put obstacles in the way of workers banding together to demand fair treatment. Long before corporations began shipping jobs overseas to save on labor costs, they were moving factories from northern states to red states with misnamed "right to work" laws that made unionization impossible. Corporate profits increased at the expense of worker wages and workplace safety.
Democrats are supposed to be the party that supports unions. The party has even dedicated a plank in their platform to support "the right to join or form a union". Unfortunately, this value is not shared by those within the party who support the privatization of public education through the growth of charter schools. Most of these publicly funded private schools are fiercely anti-union even as they serve low socioeconomic areas that would benefit the most from the spread of unionism.
The seven seats on the LAUSD School Board are all held by Democrats but starting with their next meeting, the first loyalty of the majority of the members will be to the California Charter School Association (CCSA). This group has spent millions of dollars on school board races to ensure that the schools that they represent are not held accountable for their actions. This includes the union-busting actions of the chain of Alliance charter schools.
Teachers at some of the schools in the Alliance chain have been trying to organize for the past five years. In 2018, teachers at three of the schools filed to join United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). They were joined the next year by two additional schools. The charter chain has still not negotiated with the union, sparking charges of unfair labor practices.
According to teachers at these schools, Alliance has taken drastic actions to avoid dealing with UTLA including proceeding with plans to close down one of the schools that had voted to unionize. The chain also changed its structure so that instead of each school having a governing board, all of the schools are now represented by one board. When seeking approval for this change Alliance told the LAUSD Board that this change had nothing to do with its anti-union efforts. However, after the revision was authorized the chain argued before the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that in order to be recognized, the union needed to get authorization for its teachers across all of the chain's schools. PERB rejected the argument, but Alliance is now trying to appeal to the courts to have their decision overturned.
Alliance's anti-union stand is harmful to the students that it serves. The animosity that is building with its employees threatens stability in the workforce that is necessary for a positive educational environment. It prevents teachers from having "a stake in decisions that are now being made solely by [the] administration." This eliminates a voice that has the benefit of the experience of being "in the trenches...every day with students."
Despite the blatant violation of the rights of their teachers to organize, the charters of several of the Alliance schools were renewed by the LAUSD Board last month. Only Jackie Goldberg stood up strongly against their practices telling them that "it is time for [you] to finally figure out how to deal with unions."
In two years, Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez will face the voters as the charter school-backed majority tries to hold on to their seats. Progressive voters need to hold them accountable for their continued support of anti-union charter schools and the harm they do to neighborhoods that need the help that unionization brings. If Democrats really believe that all workers have " the right to join or form a union," then they must make sure that candidates who support anti-union practices do not run under the umbrella of their party.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.