The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

May 13, 2011
Union protests: Do they help or hurt?

Today wraps up a week of Capitol protests by the California Teachers Association and other groups that oppose cuts to the state's budget. Thursday evening, CTA President David A. Sanchez and about two dozen CTA members were arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol after it closed. On Monday, about 65 people at a CTA-sponsored sit-in were arrested for the same reason.

Mark Paul, a former Bee editorial writer and co-author of "California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It," has this advice on The California Fix blog:

"Teachers, go home."

But instead of criticizing the union's budget position, Paul suggests that it refocus its efforts:

The last time I looked, the California Teachers Association was supposed to be a labor union. And what labor unions used to understand, at least before they became full-time political action committee/lobbyists, was that direct action was their most powerful tool. The advice that teachers give to their writing students -- don't tell me, show me -- applies equally in writing a political story.

Don't tell me that failure to extend the temporary taxes will result in big cuts in schools, including a shorter school year. Show me. Announce that, beginning Monday, every teacher in every school in the district of every Republican legislator who has failed to vote for the Governor's budget plan will be out sick. So will every other school employee. There will be no janitors to unlock the school doors, no bus drivers to pick up the kids, no principals to shuffle the papers. Everyone will be laid up with an epidemic of heartsickness over what will happen to the schools if the current temporary taxes aren't extended. And the epidemic, they can make clear, is sure to last through the remainder of the school year.

What do you think? Is traditional marching and civil disobedience effective? Or should CTA "tell" less and "show" more? And are there any lessons to be learned by state employee unions here, even though they can be disciplined for sickouts or strikes? What about Paul's assertion that labor unions have become more concerned with lobbying than direct action?

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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