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The Unions’ Made-For-TV Movement

The following is an excerpt from our Saturday email, which includes our musings on the latest developments impacting public employees, links to that week’s labor news, and a collection of whimsical reads for your weekend. If you’d like to receive our weekly email, you can use the sign-up form at the bottom of this page. We promise to respect your inbox, and we will never share your email address.

My first career was in the entertainment industry. I lived in Los Angeles where I worked in the publicity department of a record label, and I quickly became accustomed to the fact that not much is what it seems in that town.

Celebrities are shorter in person (except Will Ferrell, he’s astonishingly tall by Hollywood’s standards and quite friendly!). And television is full of tricks (prop stylists use Elmer’s glue in the place of milk in cereal commercials).

I’m learning my current career — the one where I help fight for the First Amendment rights of public servants — isn’t too different from the entertainment industry in that organized labor is not what it seems.

Take the “Red for Ed” movement. It’s been touted as a gloriously independent, widespread effort to unionize teachers in, you guessed it, red states. The reality of the situation is like glue on cereal in a TV commercial — horrifyingly wrong once you realize what you’re really looking at.  

The “Red for Ed” movement began in West Virginia in February of 2018. It wasn’t long before teachers were donning red T-shirts and filling the corridors of state capitols across the country. Sure, the local media conducted interviews with local teachers at rallies on statehouse steps, but the machine behind the movement was anything but local.

The nation’s two largest teachers unions bankroll this movement. The largest union in America calls the shots and presumably orders the red T-shirts for this so-called grassroots movement…from their D.C. office on 16th Street NW.

Red for Ed isn’t about improving the wages and working conditions of teachers. It was never really about that. Instead, this color-coordinated public relations campaign was an attempt to push a progressive political agenda and increase union membership numbers.

It all sounds more like a made-for-TV drama than an authentic helping hand to teachers who need it most.

Elisabeth Kines

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Elisabeth Messenger

Elisabeth Messenger is CEO of Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Elisabeth was in the publicity department at Atlantic Records in Los Angeles, CA. From there, she learned how to build organizations that would impact culture through positions in operations and business development at Universal Music Group, VEVO, and Beats Music.