A Question for Florida’s Teachers’ Unions

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In the wake of recent rebellions by teachers and other public education advocates that have been taking place in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, the teachers’ unions in Florida have been largely silent on getting involved, mostly reminding education professionals that we cannot strike here due to the deal we made with the Florida Legislature in 1968 that exchanged our right to collectively bargain for our right to strike.

50 years later, many are starting to wonder if that deal has been broken by the current Florida Legislature, a governing body that seems to care little about what nearly 200,000 education professionals think and in the last two years especially has tried to circumvent the Florida Constitution with bad faith legislation like HB7069 and HB7055.

And yet with all of this unprecedented teacher organization and activism, our main union for the entire state,  the Florida Education Association, and its current president, Joanne McCall, have done two things: 1) issue a statement reminding everyone that we cannot strike and that there are draconian consequences awaiting us all if we do; 2) create ads and a commercial about the damage done during Rick Scott’s tenure that encourage us to vote for public education advocates in August and November. There’s nothing wrong with these actions per se, but we could do so much more by banding together NOW and having demonstrations, rallies, and marches between today and November.

It’s evident on Facebook alone that teachers throughout the Sunshine State want to take action, even if only as a demonstration of solidarity with educators in the aforementioned states. Several “Florida Educators United” group pages have already appeared on Facebook, and comments made there and on other education blogs are riddled with questions about why teachers’ unions are not leading the charge while the plight of public education and its woeful funding in southern states is in the public spotlight.

We cannot squander this opportunity, which is why President McCall and the FEA should start mobilizing the local unions to engage our communities without going on strike. As I wrote in my comments to the Hillsborough County School Board last week, the time is now. The reason why we must take action now rather than later is two-fold:

1) non-members need to see how the state and local teachers’ unions are being pro-active and taking the fight to Tallahassee while simultaneously standing in solidarity with those who are still protesting in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. This may encourage them to join their local unions and further strengthen our numbers, which is especially critical in light of the union decertification language that was packaged into HB7055.

2) by starting our efforts to organize and activate our members, we can consistently build momentum and share our message all summer long and into the upcoming election cycle. Unions could use the summer months especially to network with local candidates that they endorse, help register young voters who have Parkland on their mind and want to radically change the status quo in Tallahassee, and just help phone bank / knock on doors to help get out the vote during primaries in August and the general in November.

While many local unions may come up with other ideas, here are two excellent ones that I would personally love to see the FEA champion and help coordinate. The first was proposed during our executive board meeting last week. Arizona has decided to stage a statewide “walk-in” rather than a “walkout”; teachers, parents, and other community supporters will all line up to walk in to school together. Imagine if all 67 districts could coordinate this effort to demonstrate similarly at every school throughout Florida on the exact same day.

One of our board members proposed a day: May 8th, National Teacher Appreciation Day.

This gives us one month from today to start spreading the word on social media and getting the locals on board with the aid of the FEA and its leadership team. It might also be a good idea to wear red that day in honor of the #RedForEd movement that is currently sweeping the nation, especially in GOP-dominated states that continue to lag public education spending levels that existed prior to the Great Recession.

Donna Yates Mace, a retired teacher, outspoken public education advocate, and manager of Teacher to Teacher also had another suggestion for a demonstration day: September 17, U.S. Constitution Day, which is perfect timing due to the beginning of committee work in Tallahassee for the 2019 legislative session as well as closing in on the general elections that will happen in November. That one is far enough away I am confident we could easily amass a giant rally on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee, demanding better funding to support our students and their future.

Union members and non-members alike are perplexed and frustrated by the limited action the FEA has taken thus far, and locals feel beholden to fall lockstep into whatever FEA leadership suggests. Many of us are asking the question: why can’t we do more?

I believe that not only we can do more, we must.

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