3 years of organizing under Right-to-Work

An account of organizing with teachers and the small successes and failures that had happened.

I live and work in a “right-to-work” state in the United States where all workers have the right to quit at anytime, yet they can also be terminated at any time. Where’s the benefit in that type of work environment?

For the last three years, that work environment has had a huge influence on my unionizing efforts. At my place of employment I am the only IWW member. At times, it can be very discouraging, but I have learned that persistence is a must if anything is to be accomplished.


1. I have been able to get my fellow teachers together at a restaurant or someone’s house a number of times where we have developed and agreed to a list of concerns that have been presented to our boss and her boss.

2. We have had three meetings with management with all teachers present.

3. We have all resorted to using work-to-rule tactics, i.e., we do only the absolute minimum by following the rules exactly.

4. If management tells us to do something more, “speed up”, we ignore it. We make management get off their asses and come to us with their concerns and then we ignore them again. Management frequently doesn’t ask again because it makes them work harder.

5. We keep labor journals and compare notes daily. For example, management will play favorites with employees. They’ll say one thing to one teacher and say something completely different to another teacher. When we compare notes, we find the most advantageous “saying” and then hold them to it. They hate that because not only does it limit their ability to talk to workers, it also limits their ability to pit one worker against another. They lose power and control.

Learning from failure

Unfortunately, everything hasn’t been bread and roses. Here are some examples of failures.

1. I have succeeded in signing one co-worker to our union. She then moved on and discontinued her membership.

2. I have been unable to sustain my fellow workers’ interest in being more militant. Once something improves they stop.

3. I have not been able to keep coworkers together. They leave as soon as they can for a “better” job. Consequently, there is a high turnover rate that hinders worker solidarity and makes it harder to keep the gains we have made together.

4. Beware the Canary Letter. Once a year the company has all employees fill out a survey. The teachers made sure they were negative and unsigned. Our boss wanted us to turn them in to her. Instead I mixed them up with non-teaching staff then slid them under the Human Resources door unseen. Within 30 minutes our boss was running around asking all the teachers why everyone was so upset, etc. How did the bosses know? It’s called the canary letter. Each department will have a different survey. It could be a different question, misspelled word, different numbered pages so that the boss can know at least what department it came from, even if it is not signed.

5. The most hurtful episode was when we had a labor faker in our midst. He came out all gung ho for everything union. He expressed the same sentiments as everyone else. He had some good ideas. All that changed when we were having a meeting with the two bosses. He acted like Rambo by expressing opinions that were either not agreed upon or were designed to sidetrack our demands and place the meeting into chaos. That was the first inkling that we had a faker.

The last episode was when he got in trouble for something that happened in his class. From what we can gather, he unloaded his guts about what the teachers really thought about everything. In consequence, the teaching staff attended two “mandatory meetings” where the management asked everyone “what was really going on?” while the labor faker sat there with us.

None of us admitted to anything and the faker remains employed. Needless to say but we treat him as someone not worth our trust or loyalty.

Originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker


Juan Conatz
Apr 13 2012 02:10

The part in the beginning that is described as 'right to work' is actually the foundation of labor law here. This differs from most of Europe (is my impression) in that you can be fired for pretty much any reason other than being part of a protected class (race, national origin, age, etc) or under a union contract.

I think RTW means something else entirely.

Apr 13 2012 03:19

Yeah, what's described at the beginning is at-will employment, which is standard in the US, "right to work" means that they can't make you pay union dues as a condition of employment.