School Employees Show the Secret to Success

School employees are winning labor fights all across the country. That’s why I was proud to participate with them in the Texas “March on the Capitol” March 11, 2019. I had only recently figured out why school employees are winning when most of the labor movement is struggling. At the Texas Capitol, the secret to success was patently obvious.

I shot one video outside and another one inside the capitol. Both of them showed a good turnout of teachers and other school employees, but they also showed a lot of other people. 

The secret to success is having a lot of friends and supporters. Government policies have restrained unions so severely that hardly any union can win a concerted action just by going on strike or even by using some of the more innovative methods like “work to rule.” What all unionists, all working families interested in success, need to learn from the school employees is this: “It takes a village!”

It Takes A Village to Win

Let me offer just a few photos to prove my point:

Ed Sills and Texas AFL-CIO Banner

The guy behind the Texas AFL-CIO banner is Communications Director Ed Sills. He did everything possible to make sure that every activist in Texas, no matter what union or organization they belong to, knew about the March 11 action.

Students with church sign

Students and parents will always stand with the school employees. There are a lot of them and they're willing to do almost anything. These two weren't union members' kids, but part of the many church groups supporting the Texas school employees.

Retirees turned out for the school employees

Retirees turned out well for the school employees. This is the group from one bus. I think two of them might be retired school employees, four of us were from four different unions, and the rest of our volunteer group had no union.

Gene Lantz, Rena Honea, Jessica Gonzalez, and Mark York

I was honored to sit down with Rena Honea, leader of Dallas school employees, Representative Jessica Gonzalez, and Dallas AFL-CIO Principal Officer Mark York. We were all on the same page!

The AFL-CIO Knows the Secret

The good news is that National AFL-CIO figured it out at the end of the previous century. They’ve been trying to build support among different unions, neighbors, civil rights activists, churches, women’s organizations, politicians, environmentalists, and whoever else might help working families win. Coalitions win, and individuals lose. That’s labor’s lesson, and nobody recently proved it more than the educators.

I’m not sure how well the entire labor movement has learned the coalitioning lesson, but I’m particularly proud of the Texas AFL-CIO and our Dallas affiliate for what I personally experienced on March 11.

At the noontime rally on the steps of the Capitol, the President of the American Federation of Teachers spoke very shortly, then gave a glowing introduction to the President of the Texas State Teachers’ Association. One is AFT, the other is NEA, but nobody could pry them apart. Both national presidents came, too.

The Texas AFL-CIO and the Dallas AFL-CIO both worked hard to get turnout at the state rally, and they showed up. As I hurried to an appointment with my state representative, Jessica Gonzalez, it was Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy who gave me directions to her office. When I got there, Rena Honea was waiting. Rena is President of the largest union in Dallas, the school employees. As we walked into Gonzalez’ office, we were joined by Eddie Morgan from my group, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans. I don’t think Eddie has ever been in a union, but he’s a big supporter of the school workers. The last person to join our group was Mark York, principal officer of the Dallas AFL-CIO. Mark rode one of the buses to Austin just like everybody else.

Rena gave Representative Gonzalez such a good review of the needs of education that there wasn’t a lot more for the rest of us to say. But I was particularly impressed at the end when Mark York spoke to Gonzalez, “And what are you working on that we might be able to help with?”

York made it clear that he wasn’t there simply to make demands or inquiries, but to continue building the progressive coalition that can win. The answer he received was that Gonzalez is working on House Bill 3274. It would require a $15 minimum wage for all school employees. She is also working on HB 3276 to help active teachers with their premiums. Mark York said to count on our support.

That’s coalition building. That’s the secret to success!

--Gene Lantz