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Member Spotlight: Alex Price

An experienced elementary teacher, Alex Price became frustrated with his workplace teachers union during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Alex and his wife, who teach in the same school district, were “dismayed by the conduct” of their local union because of the “indecision surrounding the start of the 2020-2021 school year” and the eventual “decision to start 100% virtually, something we knew we were wholly unprepared for as a district.”

Alex served as a building union representative for a year-and-a-half before the pandemic, but when union officials and the school district quarreled over school reopening plans, Alex knew the union was not looking out for teachers or students. In October 2020, he learned that “union executive members had been overt in their plan to demand more money from the state in order to ‘reopen safely,’ and had little intention to make in-person teaching a legitimate reality for families or teachers willing to take the risk.”

Alex pointed out that this about-face by union executives “was contrary to the executives’ stance just two months earlier.” At first, the local union president claimed it was clear that the school district “had to open school in September 2020 in person, and that to do otherwise would make teaching nearly impossible, especially for teachers and students in younger grades.”

Instead of serving parents and students, the union executives “were obviously taking their cues from their political allies.” Alex stated, “I could not, in good conscience, maintain affiliation with such people.” He wrote a letter to the school board and urged them “to try to reopen schools earlier” because students were struggling. He knew of students’ struggles with virtual learning because his personal experience with his daughter. “My daughter’s educational experience was — in spite of her teacher’s herculean efforts — abysmal, and I know hundreds more in our district could say the same for their children,” Alex said.

The local union president called Alex and told him that the letter “touched her heart.” She agreed that he had every right as a taxpaying resident to voice his opinion about virtual learning not working for the community, but assured Alex that in-person learning would happen within several weeks. The union president’s claim, as Alex found out, was “a claim that ended up being false” when the school district did not reopen to in-person learning.

“Her messages to me,” he said, “were largely contradicted at follow-up Zoom meetings with union members from the entire district, in which she seemed to validate and stoke the fears of teachers who were reluctant to return to in-person school.” In one meeting, where various teachers shared statements such as, “I’m not dying for this” or “How could we even think about going back to school?”, the same union president explained that publicly voicing a contradicting opinion in favor of returning to in-person learning would undermine the union’s message to the public.

Alex noted, “Little about the quality of education our students were receiving, or the deficiencies of virtual learning was mentioned” during the Zoom call. “It was obvious that there was little room for opinions like mine, and those of my wife’s and other less vocal teachers,” he said, “because they would weaken the perception of a strong union.”

“At nearly every turn,” Alex explained, “our union executive panel members made it clear that they were either utterly ignorant of the actual risks of COVID-19 to the general student and staff population, or they were deliberately basing their decisions about reopening schools and returning to in-person schooling on partisan, political reasons.”

“Numerous neighboring districts had already reopened for in-person learning,” but it was not the same for Alex’s school district. When the school district returned to a hybrid (in-person and virtual learning) model in December 2020, the district and union did not give parents or teachers “the choice to opt for in-person learning or remote schooling.”

Alex stated, when he learned of the lack of options given to parents and teachers, “It was clear that our union’s politically driven decision-making was something I could no longer support — philosophically or financially.”

He discovered, through his experiences, that unions are motivated more by money and power rather than serving their members. “It has become abundantly clear that so much of the hold they have over employees is based in fear tactics and cult-like solidarity,” Alex said, “Union brass is motivated like many politicians are motivated — by power, influence, and prestige — and what often gets lost are the reasons why employees do their jobs in the first place.”

Alex added, “In my case, the students we serve seemed to be tertiary concerns for executives while upholding the image of a strong union became the primary concern. Many of school board members our executive council has endorsed are openly political and hostile to those with differing political opinions.”

To those who are unsure about leaving their union, or may not know much about unions in general, or are new hires in a union environment, Alex suggested that they should ask building representatives and union executives to “explain and list exactly what their union dues will be used for, why certain candidates would be endorsed, and that other options exist should they not want to affiliate with their local union, for financial, political, or philosophical reasons.” Then, based on their response, a person can determine where the union’s priorities lie.

When asked about how he found AFFT, Alex said that his wife found AFFT through an online community “in response to the glaring deficiencies of a virtual learning model and the deleterious effects it was having on students and the community as a whole.” Since joining AFFT, he was able to secure professional liability insurance that has “have saved several hundred dollars per year.”

But the most powerful benefit was his liberation “from a toxic affiliation.” Alex proclaimed, “Union executives can pretend that their decision-making during COVID was based in sound ‘science’ and ‘safety,’ but the truth is, those things happened, and they damaged children and I never stood for any of it.”

Americans for Fair Treatment

Americans for Fair Treatment is a free, membership, non-profit organization designed to help public sector workers exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of coercion from unions.