Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Challenges

BOND: Now, you come into the VEA at a time when unionization and teacher militants – these are hot items all over the United States. And there surely had to be people in Virginia, as well as we know in the national government, the federal government, who are saying, "This is just awful. This is terrible. You’re ruining a profession. You ought not do this," and Virginia, of course, prohibits unionization of teachers.

FUTRELL: Well, you have to understand --

BOND: How’d you deal with all this?

FUTRELL: -- that prohibition came about when I was president.

BOND: Yes.

FUTRELL: And Virginia is a non-collective bargaining state. And when I became president, just before that they had -- the state – and I think it was Governor Godwin – had looked at the area of the state where there were the strongest contracts for all public employees. Obviously that was the northern part of the state. And they picked Arlington. And while I was president, that’s when the court decision came down, nullifying all the agreements. And so it didn’t matter what we had negotiated, it was gone. We tried to ask them, "Could we not simply live out the remainder of the life of the contract?" And the answer was "No, as of this date, it’s over. You have no negotiated agreement."

And we basically said, that’s not going to stop the organization from organizing. That’s not going to stop people from coming together. That’s not going to stop people from standing up for their rights. And I used, as part of my argument, "Our coming together and bringing forth issues of relevance to education and to the profession, have helped strengthen education and strengthen the profession. And it’s not just the collective bargaining of ‘bread and butter’ issues we’re addressing, it’s the salaries and the working conditions -- those are important. But equally important to us as professionals, is do we, are we able to provide quality education for the children?" And so, the militancy -- a lot of times people usually will say, "If you belong to a union, you only care about your salary, your fringe benefits, your working conditions, that’s all you care." That’s not true. And what we tried to do was to say, "Part of the whole process is to give teachers a voice. And the decision making process as it relates to the profession – what’s taught, where it’s taught, the conditions under which we work, the teaching conditions – are the same as the learning conditions, and use it for that purpose. There are a lot of people that are still opposed to the unions. But if you look at the teachers, we’re the most organized people in the United States of America. The other work areas have dropped, precipitously. About 85 to 90 percent of the teachers in this country are still organized. And I think because we have balanced the "bread and butter" issues with the professional issues.

BOND: But there had to be some teachers then who said, "Listen, I’m a professional."

FUTRELL: Of course.

BOND: "It’s only working people, plumbers, carpenters, who belong to unions. Not me -- I’m a professional person, I’m a white-collar worker. We don’t have unions."

FUTRELL: Right. And if you’re in the South, generally you’ll hear the Teacher’s Association referred to as the Professional Association, and they abhor the word "union." You know, you don’t hear the word "union." But if you go to other parts of the country, you do hear the word "union." And so, then when we come together as a national body, here we all are together. And so, your statement is correct, there are people who have difficulty with the word "union." And they have particular difficulty with the teacher’s organization being affiliated with the AFL-CIO. And the NEA is independent. AFT is a part of the AFL-CIO. If the merger comes together, NEA will probably go into the AFL-CIO. But what I hope and pray is that they never lose their mission. And the mission is to improve the quality of education for the children of America. And I don’t think they will.