It's Time to Learn What Public Employees in "Right to Work" States Know
Early on in my VEA membership, I operated from the assumption that everyone was a member, but soon learned that this was not the case. Virginia is a "Right to Work" Commonwealth, and has been since the Taft-Hartley act in 1947. Anyhow, the main thing that is at play in Virginia is the lack of compulsory organizational dues, which now because of the recent SCOTUS decision, is the case for all public employees. As far as the work of collective bargaining agreements go, it seems that that hasn't changed for the time being. Here in Virginia though, we ain't got that either. Instead what the VEA has needed to do is work at the state level via legislation, or plead their case publicly in the localities via school boards and city councils. Our long-standing situation in the Commonwealth is probably the primary cause for the pay gap in Virginia being the greatest of all the states.
Wisconsin recently passed Act 10, which turned it to a Right to Work state, and in anticipation for the upcoming SCOTUS case, CNN released an article looking back at how things have changed there since Act 10. The article states that, "In the five years since Act 10 was passed, median salaries for teachers in the state have fallen by 2.6% and median benefits declined 18.6%, according to an analysis of state administrative data" (CNN Money). When this was occurring, I recalled hearing that there had been several folks from Wisconsin unions in touch with the VEA in order to get some ideas for how they can work under the new conditions. I do not know that Virginia is the best example, considering the vast pay gap we have when college-educated employees' median wages are compared to college-educated teachers', but when looking at the seventy-one years we've operated under these conditions, perhaps there is something to be learned.
As far as states with a narrower pay gap go, Nevada (1951), Nebraska (1946), Wisconsin (2015), North Dakota (1947), Michigan (2012), Iowa (1947), and Wyoming (1963) are already Right to Work states. The data for Wisconsin shows a widening gap--see above. As for Michigan, their membership has dropped significantly since 2012 (Capitol Confidential). So, when looking for ways to staunch some of the bleeding from the SCOTUS decision, it is probably not going to be something that can be done by collaborating with just one other association or union. For example, states like North Dakota or Wyoming have a huge difficulty retaining their college-educated population, so for those states, teaching is sometimes one of the best jobs in town--especially when your town may be less than 2000 people. For other states, like Michigan and Wisconsin, the newness of their situations may prove helpful for those now facing this change in fortune.
When I was reading for this post, I hadn't realized that this same type of case went before the SCOTUS just after Scalia died. The case was left at 4-4. Now it's been revisited, and we have our result. There are obviously two things that need to be done. One is to find ways to re-invigorate organized labor by pushing legislation that strengthens it, and the other is to find new, innovative ways to work within the confines of our new reality. The data shows it's an uphill slog with mediocre results at best; however, through this process, perhaps there will be discoveries made on how to turn things around. There is hope after all, just look at the activism of West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado (Economist).