Invariably, someone responds to one of my Facebook posts — where I oft use the word “union” to describe Texas AFT — with a vehement objection. “There are no unions in Texas!” or “Unions are illegal in Texas!” Or they often have the qualifier of “teacher,” as in “Teacher unions aren’t allowed in Texas.”
Some of these objections are just based on not understanding the laws of Texas. Yes, unions are legal here in the Lone Star State, and we have plenty of them in the private sector, and many bargain collectively for employment contracts. Yes, it’s also true that Texas is a “right-to-work” state, meaning it is illegal to make union membership compulsory for employment.
We also have many public sector unions (including Texas AFT) that represent public employees. For most of these unions, collective bargaining is outlawed in Texas, as is the right to strike. The exceptions that allow collective bargaining for public employees are for many police officer and firefighter unions, and the municipal employees of Houston.
So on to my typical response to these objections over our union label. Here it goes…
Actually, we are a union. Just because you don’t have collective bargaining or a right to strike, or you’re in a right-to-work state, doesn’t mean that you don’t fit the definition of a labor union — which is basically: employees organized to protect their rights and interests, and to advance their profession. But most important, you really need to embrace the union movement.
1) We are designated by IRS status 501(c)(5) as a labor union, and we are required to report certain financial information just like any bargaining union.
2) We are affiliated with AFT national, which has local unions (both bargaining and nonbargaining) across the country. And we have some 30 local affiliated unions that are self-governed.
3) We are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and the Texas AFL-CIO
4) We are counted in our AFL-CIO union for number of members. (In fact, we are the largest union in the Texas AFL-CIO)
5) We do have elected consultation in several districts, in which we won school board policies allowing for the election of one organization to represent school employees in negotiations over pay and working conditions. Although not comprehensive contracts, these consultation agreements usually garner school board approval, and thus are a form of bargaining. (Note: Other consultation systems have representatives elected or appointed from each teacher organization, and some elect members to consultation committees by position/job title in the district.)
6) We certainly are considered a union by reporters, our fellow unions who do bargain, and our adversaries.
7) We realize that some politicians only use the word “union” with us to try and taint us with unfavorable stereotypes, but we’re proud of the union label.
8) We even use “A Union of Professionals” in our tagline
9) We serve as members and leaders of Central Labor Councils, groups of labor unions organized in cities and counties to collaborate.
10) We are the only organization representing school employees that actively is seeking the right to collective bargaining in Texas for our members and other public employee unions.
So what are the other teacher unions in Texas? Just one other group holds the traits outlined above — the Texas State Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association. And it embraces the union label. (Although not quite as much as Texas AFT!) In fact, we have three “merged unions” with TSTA, meaning these three local unions are affiliated with both of Texas AFT/AFT and TSTA/NEA: Education Austin, The San Antonio Alliance, and Education Round Rock.
The other two main organizations are the Association of Texas Professional Educators, which is not a union, and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, also not a union. Not only does ATPE accept administrators as members, but it also openly opposes the mission of unions and collective bargaining. ATPE prefers what it calls a “team approach,” which is fine and dandy in concept, but we disagree that it’s the best way to protect the rights of non-administrators.
TCTA isn’t as openly against the mission of unions — although it notes that it is not affiliated with any in its self-description. And TCTA certainly doesn’t embrace the label, and it’s an organization intended just for classroom teachers and other professionals, but not support personnel. While we compete with these other groups for members, we still work together on a variety of issues, particularly in legislative sessions.