Progress Isn’t Linear


Happy Labor Day, friends!

I know, I know…many of us wonder if it really is a Happy Labor Day. Take for instance Janus v. AFSCME, the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed a public employee to forgo paying his union dues. Even though his wages and working conditions have been achieved through his union.


But I’m here to say that this is actually a Happy Labor Day! Recent events have brought us some pretty exciting stuff, and anyone who is interested in democracy, better workplaces, better education, more capable government leaders, and/or improved economic prosperity has good reason to celebrate.

Teacher Walkouts–and the progressive outcomes they achieved.

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” -John Adams, Thoughts on Government

It’s unfortunately no secret that those who we charge with the task of ensuring an educated populace are frequently paid quite meagerly. Even if they see a slight increase in wages, that extra money often goes to covering decreased benefits. Things like their health insurance, for example. Not much of a raise after all.

This year all over the country, educators have walked out of their classrooms, stood in front of their lawmakers, and demanded actual improvements. In West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, these efforts resulted in some seriously positive statewide results. West Virginia teachers accomplished a 5% raise, Arizona 20% by the year 2020, and Oklahoma $6,000.

Other places saw progress as well, including teachers from parts of Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, and California. Kentucky is sort of a mixed bag. Their State Legislature overrode their Governor Matt Bevin’s veto of a bill to increase funding, but it’s a bit unclear how those teachers will see that money.

Nevertheless, I draw great hope out of these efforts. States that usually don’t see significant spending increases in their budgets are now investing more robustly in their teachers. And therefore, in their future.

Teacher Walkouts–and the political outcomes they achieved.

In Oklahoma, eight of the 19 State Congressmembers who voted to oppose the aforementioned increases will not be running for re-election in November. Why? Because they lost in their Primaries.

Not only have teachers had enough of the status quo, it seems that voters have as well. And what’s more, teachers from many of these places have decided to run for office themselves. Tuesday, November 6th is going to be an interesting day this year!

By the way, are you registered to vote?

Voters from the Great State of Missouri

The people of Missouri recognize the value of unions.

Last year, the Missouri Legislature and now ex-Governor Eric Greitens created laws that deemed their state a so-called “Right to Work” State. As I mentioned a couple months ago, a number of states prohibit union dues from being compulsory from their members. This limits union funding–and therefore limits the ability for unions to negotiate and ensure proper terms of employment for their members.

“Right to Work” has nothing to do with one’s workplace rights. It’s a very deceiving title.

Well, it turns out Missouri residents didn’t like this. In a statewide referendum last month, they voted these “Right to Work” laws down.

The Judicial System

In May this year, the President of the United States issued executive orders that compromised fundamental workplace rights for federal employees. There were several components to this.

First, in the event a worker was considered to be underperforming, the number of days this person could take to show improvement–and therefore defend his/her employment–was cut from 120 to 30. In addition, the amount of time allowed for union business in the workplace was drastically reduced. This included time for things such as grievances. And third, there were limits placed on issues that could be negotiated for at the bargaining table.

Last month, a federal judge shut these executive orders down.

“While . . . the President has the authority to issue executive orders that carry the force of law with respect to federal labor relations, no such orders can operate to eviscerate the right to bargain collectively as envisioned” -U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ah, checks and balances. They do still exist…

A completed maze. Gray backdrop, white lines, and a red line that goes from a point on the left to an arrowhead on the right. A hand holds a pen over the arrowhead. Crumpled white pieces of paper surround the maze.

So indeed, Happy Labor Day!

Every performing artist in the United States works under conditions that exist from some form of collective action. Artists don’t exist in a vacuum; historical precedents, industry standards, and group efforts impact every work environment we enter.

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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