"The Last Stronghold": Teachers' Unions and Dynamics of Labor Movement Strategy

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
12:30 - 2:00 pm
Public Affairs Building, Room 4357

Presented by Amanda Pullum, UC Irvine Sociology

with Discussant: Ed Walker, UC Los Angeles Sociology


About the Talk:

Following the recent economic recession, elected officials in many states used budget shortfalls as justification for anti-union legislation.  Bills that would weaken or remove collective bargaining rights targeted public sector workers’ unions in particular.  Additionally, K-12 teachers—the largest category of organized public sector employees—faced losing tenure protections.  This talk will focus on electoral tactics, such as veto referenda or recall campaigns, as one approach to opposing such legislative threats.  Methods of placing legislation on the ballot or bringing a vote on whether an elected official should stay in office exist in 34 states, yet teachers’ unions rarely used them in efforts against legislation threatening collective bargaining or tenure rights.  Using qualitative comparative analysis, Pullum seeks to determine the causal conditions under which teachers’ unions did not use electoral tactics in states where they had the legal ability to do so.  She argues that labor activists’ agency and capacity for strategic innovation was highly limited by state-level political and economic characteristics.

About the Speakers:


Amanda Pullum

Amanda’s work focuses on how ordinary citizens can bring about social and political change.  She studies the strategies that social movement actors use to achieve their goals, and the processes through which they decide upon these strategies.  Her previous research has examined rural, grassroots activism in support of local schools; interactions of opposing organizations in the struggle over same-sex marriage; and the Tea Party in the context of historical and modern U.S. social movements.  Amanda’s dissertation investigates the influence of political and economic contexts on strategic decision-making processes employed by teachers’ unions as they fought against widespread legislative threats to collective bargaining and tenure in 2011.

Edward Walker

Dr. Walker's interests center on questions of how civil society is shaped by (and shapes) the marketplace and the state; he has a particular interest in how social movements influence a variety of societal institutions.  To that end, his research has investigated the means by which corporations intervene in public life through mobilizing grassroots campaigns and partnering with nonprofit organizations, how business contexts structure the tactical choices of protest groups, and the relationship between fully professionalized (or “non-membership”) advocacy organizations and traditional membership organizations. He has also studied community-based organizations’ efforts to build power for underrepresented citizens, create new economic opportunities, and make local governments more accountable.  More recently, he has become interested in community-level isomorphic pressures in the philanthropic giving of firms, particularly in health-related industries. He is also investigating the challenges inherent in promoting civic participation and empowered governance in a context of heightened inequalities (see the Democratizing Inequalities website).


This event is presented by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) and cosponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies' (GSE&IS) Division of Urban Schooling