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Unions push race essentialism in schools and other public workplaces. What are you seeing?

Unions should be at the forefront of pushing back against race essentialism in the workplace, but instead it appears they’re among the primary instigators. 

The Pennsylvania State Education Association made national news this week when information leaked about a training the union plans to hold called, “Nice White Parents: A Look at How Parent Groups Have Systematically Impacted the Education System.” The training is based on a New York Times podcast of the same name that focuses on wealthy, liberal parents in New York City and how they’ve shaped local schools. 

The training was sponsored by the union’s Eastern Region Continuing Professional Education committee, which means teachers will receive professional education credit for attending the workshop. 

This training will likely inflame already heated rhetoric on how schools are teaching students about race and racism in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. 

The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have made it clear that they support the teaching of race essentialist principles in classrooms. But this isn’t a problem just in classrooms, it has divided other workplaces as well. Rather than pushing back on divisive language, unions like the SEIU have leaned-in to the “anti-racism” narrative. 

Unions themselves have a troubled history with racism. Early union leaders worked to exclude black workers from jobs and from union membership. Policies like the minimum wage and prevailing wage were initially promoted to keep minority workers from getting jobs. 

There are curriculums and trainings that exist that promote greater racial harmony in both the classroom and the workplace, but so far they are not the programs promoted by unions. 

We’d like to hear from you – what are you seeing in your workplace or school? On the issue of race, has your workplace union made things better or worse for employees? What information could we provide to help you with this issue?  

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with 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, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.