On an early Friday morning at the Bates Center for Educational Leadership, Kari Van Nostran stood in front of about 60 teachers and other education professionals newly hired by Vancouver Public Schools with an invitation to join a “large family.”
As her audience snacked on trail mix and oranges, Van Nostran, the recently elected president of the Vancouver Education Association, made her pitch for why they should opt to join the union representing teachers and other non-administrative professionals. With the enthusiasm of a game show host, Van Nostran explained that along with advocating for better pay and benefits, the union would offer its members professional development and representation during disciplinary actions. She mentioned other benefits, such as deals on cellphone plans, travel and insurance.
“We take care of our own,” said Van Nostran. She noted that of the 1,663 employees the union represents, 99 percent are members. At the end of the presentation, Van Nostran asked audience members if they were ready for their sign-up forms and welcomed them to the family.
Scenes like this are increasingly important for the viability of organized labor across the country. In recent years, public-sector unions have faced anxious times as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings upending decades of precedent that formed the underpinnings of organized labor.
In June of last year, the court issued its most recent ruling, Janus v. AFSCME, that had high stakes for both unions and their opponents. The case concerned whether public-sector unions could collect fees for collective bargaining activities from employees who aren’t members of the union and don’t pay dues.