The grass-roots power of AFT members, affiliates and community partners across Texas was a force to be reckoned with this summer, when frontline union engagement and coalition-building helped turn the tide in a high-stakes battle in the state Legislature.
Angling to resurrect a raft of ultra-conservative measures that had failed in the regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a 30-day special session on July 18. The stick that Abbott used to drive legislators back into special session was a bill that lawmakers needed to enact in order to prevent the shutdown of several state agencies. But the session wasn't about orderly government. It was about the failed legislative agenda that the governor and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refused to drop.
High on their wish list: the elimination of educators' right to have union dues deducted from payroll, diverting state funding from public schools to private or charter schools through vouchers for special education, a "bathroom bill" targeting the rights of transgender students, and an overhaul of the process for property appraisals and tax rates that would further cripple districts' ability to fund public education.
If the idea was to slip legislation through over a few sleepy July and August sessions, AFT members and their community allies were quick to respond with a hard, loud wake-up call to the governor and his fringe allies.
"The governor had about 20 really bad ideas, so it wasn't much of a summer for teachers," Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro (pictured above), who is also an AFT vice president, reported to AFT union leaders in an Aug. 17 telephone conference call. "It was a hard-fought struggle."
Across the state, AFT members called and emailed their representatives and senators. They lobbied at the Capitol and in their districts. They attended town halls and mobilized to send a strong message: This agenda was not the agenda demanded by most Texans.
A key to victory, Malfaro emphasized, was working in coalition. The AFT at the state and local level mobilized in partnership not only with staunch, traditional labor allies but also with a broad coalition of faith leaders, parent organizations, school board members and administrators to fight back.
In the end, this full-on battle was one that the AFT and its allies won in commanding, bipartisan fashion. Democrats joined with moderate Republican leaders to derail the attacks launched by the governor and lieutenant governor. All of their anti-teacher, anti-education schemes fizzled and failed. And the grass-roots coalition also was instrumental in helping House leadership to secure a "skinny" increase to school funding.
Now, Malfaro says, the idea is to build on the summer's momentum. "We are thinking long and hard about 2018 and also focusing on a wider economic agenda" with labor's voice in the vanguard.