As L.A. strike begins, eye-catching billboards tell teachers they don’t have to strike – they can quit the union
SHOUTING FROM THE ROOFTOPS: Billboard at 6th and Beaudry, near LA Unified HQ.
LOS ANGELES—As 30,000 teachers walked out of Los Angeles classrooms, a coalition of education reform groups is offering teachers an alternative: leave the teachers union.
Billboards around the Los Angeles Unified School District encourage teachers to learn their rights – including the right to exit their union. The signs read, “Teachers: Tired of union politics? Feeling ignored? Know your rights!” They direct teachers to the TeacherFreedom.org website.
“United Teachers of L.A. president Alex Caputo-Pearl talks about defending teachers, but he sure as hell doesn’t want them to know their rights. Chief among these rights: they don’t even have to belong to his union,” said Will Swaim, president of the California Policy Center.
The billboard campaign, run by the California Policy Center and the California Teachers Empowerment Network, directs teachers to TeacherFreedom.org, an independent online resource that helps teachers explore their rights and options when it comes to union membership.
“Sadly, many teachers will honor the strike, not because they think it’s right, but because of threats – implied and otherwise – from union diehards,” said Larry Sand, president of California Teachers Empowerment Network who retired from teaching in LAUSD after 28 years.
In its June 2018 Janus v AFSCME decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that public employees, including teachers, cannot be forced to pay unions in exchange for jobs. Many observers have concluded that Caputo-Pearl’s demands – including higher teacher pay, smaller classroom sizes, and additional staff – are designed to build union membership and revenue in the post-Janus world. For district finances, they’re a disaster.
“If we had said yes , we would be bankrupt right now. We’d be under state receivership,” Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner said last summer.
Swaim says there’s logic to the union madness.
“The Supreme Court’s decision represents an existential threat to Alex Caputo-Pearl’s power. Fewer union members mean reduced income to his union – and that means less power in state and local politics,” said Swaim.
“There’s nothing like a war to create instant loyalty,” Swaim said. “Alex Caputo-Pearl doesn’t care about the impact of his war on the district’s children, its families, or teachers – or the image of striking teachers walking out on kids.”
Swaim said his group’s polling of teachers, conducted in September, revealed that a large percentage of teachers oppose the strike, seeing it as contrary to the critical role of teachers, especially in poor communities. That same poll showed that few teachers knew their rights.
“For teachers who really understand the critical role they play in the classroom, the union’s political behavior is unprofessional and unethical,” said Swaim. “Our billboards aim to let them know they no longer have to support that behavior with their hard-earned money.”
The California Policy Center (CPC) is an educational non-profit focused on public policies that aim to improve California’s democracy and economy. CPC is committed to protecting the rights of California educators to make decisions for themselves. Contact Will Swaim at will@CalPolicyCenter.org.
The California Teacher Empowerment Network (CTEN) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization providing objective information to teachers on education policy. For more about CTEN, contact Rachel Schwartz at (310) 990-2764 or at email@example.com.