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The secret reason there are so many teachers’ strikes right now

by Resurgent Insider Read Profile arrow_right_alt

If you’re a parent in Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland or West Virginia, odds are that already this year, you’ve dealt with striking teachers and the risk of having to take vacation or unpaid leave to look after your kids while educators picket. 

If you’re a parent in Virginia or Georgia where teachers have rallied, you could face the same situation.

It all follows last year’s walkouts in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia. 

What is going on here? Are teachers emboldened by Democratic wins at the ballot box? Are teachers’ unions urging more “industrial action” because Democratic Socialists are on the rise? Do they think they can get away with strikes now when they couldn’t have three or four years ago? Is this all legitimately about, as CNNsays, debates over “salaries and benefits to school infrastructure and class size to charter schools”?

Actually, according to education insiders, none of these are the root causes of what we’re seeing right now—and what we may see more of in the coming weeks and months.

Per education reform experts, we’re going to see a massive uptick in teachers striking, rallying, and generally getting more demanding about compensation and other terms and conditions of work, and the reason is the Supreme Court decision in the Janus case. 

Experts say Janus is already beginning to have a big impact on public sector employees unions, including and perhaps especially teachers’ unions. It is depriving them of money they previously had available to finance a whole slew of activities. 

That has led the unions, whose ability to buy political outcomes with targeted donations is diminishing by the day, to conclude that their only remaining way of exercising clout is by engaging in the kinds of practices you’re seeing more of now: Picketing; rallying; strikes; the sort of behavior we saw in Wisconsin in 2011, in response to former Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms.

An additional factor may be ongoing pressure by progressive activists on teachers’ pension funds and other public employees’ pension funds to divest from particular “bad” industries. 

Ever-popular are firearms and oil, but also on the radar are certain financial services firms and private contractors undertaking immigration detention or correctional services. 

When investment decisions start to be made on the basis of social justice concerns, as opposed to raw consideration of potential financial returns, there’s a risk that pensions will wind up paying out less. That compounds worries about compensation and other work terms and conditions that unions perceive themselves as suddenly powerless to address. That means up-stepped “industrial activity” like strikes.

Is the situation likely to abate anytime soon? Probably not. 

Janus is not going to be reversed.

But public employee retirement systems may become more resistant to progressive pressure campaigns urging investment on the basis of progressive values rather than raw financial returns. If so, that could make some teachers less eager to strike or engage in threats of strikes.

However, in the era of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it seems unlikely that progressives will drop their demands regarding retirement system investments. It will be up to fiduciaries to develop the cojones to say “no” to them and remember their duties—protecting the value of retirement dollars and ensuring that adequate amounts exist, not trying to re-engineer the world according to lefty values by using other people’s money entrusted to them on pet projects.

In any event, what you’re seeing now in terms of teachers striking, rallying, and threatening walk-outs is really evidence of the waning power of unions, as opposed to Hulk-like unions flexing their political muscle—which is actually withering. A lot.

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