A Parent Guide to Teachers' Unions

“Action is for mass salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to be ‘corrupted’ for them.” — Saul Alinsky

“The hell with charity. The only thing you’ll get is what you’re strong enough to get.” — Saul Alinsky


Parents rightly admire and appreciate their children’s teachers, but they don’t always understand the radical labor organizations running the plays behind the scenes in negotiations with their local school boards. Unfortunately, beloved teachers sometimes get caught up in the guerrilla tactics championed by Saul Alinsky and other radical community organizers.

Alinsky, considered the founder of the modern community-organizing movement, is in many ways the leader of modern-day teachers’ unions. His 1971 book Rules for Radicals has influenced negotiations between unions and school boards for 40 years, and whether parents realize it or not, their communities have often been at the mercy of his radical organizing methods. Alinsky’s main goal was to strip power from the “haves” and give it to the “have nots” based on his notion of fairness and social justice.

Gaining power is a zero-sum game in Rules for Radicals. Either you have it or you don’t. If you don’t have it all, you must continue to work until you do, using whatever means available to you, while maintaining the illusion of the moral high ground. “You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments,” Alinsky said. More:

It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where “reconciliation” means that when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation.

Until his death in 1972, Alinsky conducted training for NEA UniServ personnel. Ten years later, during a strike in Ravenna, Ohio, that dragged on for five long months (the longest in the state’s history), strike manuals were found titled “Strategy Uniserv Directors” that outlined the Alinsky-style program for negotiations. The same strategies are still in use today.


“Mislead Own Membership; Nail the Negotiator; Neighborhood Nuisance; and Blast the Boss.”

Former NEA offical John Lloyd said:

To understand NEA — to understand the union — read Saul Alinsky. If you read Rules for Radicals you will understand NEA more profoundly than reading anything else. Because the whole organization was modeled on that kind of behavior which was really begun when NEA used Saul Alinsky as a consultant to train their own staff.

Last week I wrote about the thuggish behavior of teachers in Strongsville, Ohio, during a strike that has now dragged on for two weeks. The superintendent, John Krupinski, told Media Trackers Ohio:

It’s like a playbook. It’s based on a book — a play-by-play replay of this book about how to strategize, and be successful in obtaining what you want. Rules for Radicals. … If you’ve read that book, that’s exactly the game plan that they’re pulling off. That’s the OEA playbook: Rules for Radicals.

He is not exaggerating. An old copy of a NEA UniServ manual, following the Alinsky strategy, looks like a script for the Strongsville strike, and that strategy is the basic game plan for strikes across the country.

Alinsky Rule #3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.”

The first thing to understand is that union organizers often use Alinsky’s rules to dupe their own members. Alinsky’s rules allow this, as he believed the ends always justified the means if the result was victory: “Ethics are determined by whether one is losing or winning.”


The first item on the Uniserv manual list:

Mislead own membership … to gain sympathy and support among unit members. To begin the process of dissatisfaction.


Continue to mislead. Update the reports regarding the bargaining process, but only mention the Board’s proposals that, with editorial descriptions, will keep feelings high (or low). … Start to personalize the conflict in the negotiations.

Union officials negotiate and often purposely create conflict, while teachers are given limited information on which to base their strike vote.

Another step — “Nail the Negotiator”:

Read a statement to the Board and/or press stating that the Board should not spend this money to fill such a position [legal representation] of negotiating against teachers when the money could best be used to educate children.

Again, Strongsville is a textbook case of Rules for Radicals. This time, it’s Alinsky Rule #13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” In addition to their ongoing attacks on substitute teachers and Board members, the Strongsville Education Association (SEA) has savaged the law firm representing the Board.

The handbook says the Board can be pressured into firing their negotiator, giving the advantage to the union, which has almost unlimited resources available through the NEA.

The SEA pulled this trick with a sketchy-looking PDF linked from their Facebook page with no documentation and no link to the “recent article in The Plain Dealer”:

A recent article in The Plain Dealer detailed the 12 teacher strikes that have occurred in Ohio’s public schools since the year 2000. … Upon examining the negotiation process, the name of one out-of-town attorney appears: Bill Pepple. Even when teachers are not forced to strike, Bill Pepple has a history of acrimonious negotiations. … These three communities were the lucky ones — others, as we have seen, suffer quite a different fate.


The information has been widely circulated over social media, including several Tweets I received from an anonymous union supporter. Whether or not it’s true, the goal is to strip any advantage from the Board (representing the taxpayers, remember) while at the same time making them look like greedy, unfeeling corporate lawyers and bureaucrats.

Strongsville students demonstrating in solidarity with their teachers.

The Strongsville Education Association has also demonized the Board, their accusations growing more shrill as the Board refuses to bow to union pressure. The most recent (March 16) post on their website accuses the Board of lying nearly a dozen times and not meeting them to negotiate:

It’s time for [Board members] to put on their big boy pants, stop hiding behind their lies and their lawyer, and personally come to the table in order to settle this strike.

Did I mention they were a little shrill?

In Strongsville, they’ve fluidly blended the demonization with another step in the UniServ book: “Call for round-the-clock negotiations.” The goal is to show the public that the union is working hard and willing to negotiate while the intractable, evil Board is holding up negotiations. In reality, until one side decides to budge, endless meetings and gripe sessions are pointless — it’s all grandstanding.

Union members have a wealth of options at their disposal and are instructed to escalate the process up to and including “Frighten the community and Board” when things “are falling apart.”

Parents in Strongsville must certainly be scratching their heads (and questioning the judgment of the teachers) to read instructions from the SEA on how their children can skip school while skirting the truancy laws:


Truancy laws affects students absent for 10 days or more. If you are concerned about the safety of your child but don’t want to run into truancy issues, take your child in to school on the 10th day, have them counted in attendance, and then remove them from school early.

In a letter sent home to parents, teachers also warned that substitute teachers might not be prepared for an active shooter on campus and would likely not be aware of the child’s food allergies.

Such reckless recommendations and fearmongering from professional educators are breathtaking, but they are par for the Alinsky course.

Rule #9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

Do you notice anything missing from this game plan? These commonly used strike tactics demonstrate no focus on the needs of the children or any concern for their well-being. It’s all about winning. Suddenly, everyone’s favorite teacher morphs into a caricature of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and parents wonder how something like this could have happened in their wonderful community.

A few years ago I read this disturbing story:

A jury has convicted a man of intimidation for mailing a raccoon head to a principal involved in contract talks with striking teachers. … Donald Sullivan, former band director at Bedford High School … said he wanted to send a strike-related message: “This whole thing stinks.”

Mr. Sullivan — Mr. Sullivan! — was my high school band director, and his arrest shocked the community. How could one of our favorite teachers do something like this?


The Public Service Research Foundation explains that local governments and communities are often blindsided by these tactics:

Time and again public officials have reacted with shock and disbelief to what union officials had done to them personally during organizing campaigns or labor disputes. Such tactics are entirely predictable because it is almost textbook Alinsky. Most public officials recognize that, if they had only known what to expect, they could have prepared for it and taken steps to neutralize its worst effects.

In Strongsville, at least, the superintendent is wise to the union using the Alinsky ploys, and the Board has so far refused to give in to the high-pressure tactics. But sadly, communities across the country have been torn apart when well-meaning parents and administrators sympathize with the teachers and fail to recognize what they are dealing with.

Parents and students really want to believe that the teachers in their community would never stoop to such nasty, manipulative tactics — and a lot of them wouldn’t. Mr. Sullivan, one of my favorite teachers in high school, just wasn’t capable of something like that. I would have known.

Obviously the vast majority of teachers would never send a severed raccoon head to protest a union strike (or anything close to that ghastly a stunt). But it is likely that most rank-and-file teachers don’t even realize the union leaders’ manipulative behavior going on behind the scenes. They assume the official representatives sent in from the state union office have the best interests of the teachers, the children, and the community at heart. But sadly, if you read their playbook, it’s all about winning. And children are almost always the losers when radical community organizers take over a local teachers’ union and tear apart a community.




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