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Our Union Makes Us Strong

Our mission as educators is to connect with and inspire each and every student in our lives. That means having the power through NEA and its state and local affiliates to advocate for our students and for what we know works: class sizes small enough for one-on-one attention, safe and secure environments, health and nutrition programs, and more.

We advocate for these through student-centered collective bargaining, and our right to do so has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court since 1977. But Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which went all the way to the High court, threatened that right. A loss would have undercut bargaining and cost us a voice in the decisions that affect students and our profession. But by a 4-4 vote, the court left collective bargaining for us, and for other public employees, intact. (Please see “A Supreme Decision,” on Page 38.)

That is good news. We still have a voice and we intend to use it across the nation.

However, we can’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the decision. The same groups that took the Friedrichs case to the Supreme Court are fronting other legal challenges. Their goal is to weaken unions, whittle away bargaining rights, and silence us. They have help from right-wing politicians who are advocating the same ideas at the state and local levels.

Now is the time for us to become more active and persuade our co-workers who are not yet NEA members that everything we stand for remains at risk. The Friedrichs case and the many attacks on unions and collective bargaining across the country tell us we can never take our rights for granted. 

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which ramrodded the Friedrichs case through the federal court system, is passionate about promoting a conservative agenda that includes stripping union members of collective bargaining rights and defunding public institutions. For CIR, the fight is just beginning. The organization has the money and the backing to continue its war on workers and on public education.

We must be even more passionate than our foes about promoting our belief: All students, no matter where they live, deserve the very best education possible, and we—the people who know the students best—must play a role in assuring that America delivers on its promise to students.

We can only play that essential role through student-centered collective bargaining. Every NEA affiliate must become an organizing affiliate and set goals for membership and engagement. All of us have to take ownership of our affiliates and look honestly at where they stand. Where are we strong? What needs improving? And what can we do about it?

We must be outspoken advocates for students and public education. Our union makes us strong and powerful, and we must fight to keep our voice. We can’t let anyone take it away.

Lily Eskelsen García, President

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