In 2011, state legislators across the United States introduced bills that sought to limit or revoke collective bargaining rights for all or most public sector workers. Simultaneously, state legislatures also considered bills to restrict or revoke tenure protections for public school teachers. As the largest group of organized public sector workers, many teachers saw these bills as threats against which to mobilize. However, in seventeen states, limitations on teachers’ collective bargaining and/or tenure became law that year. This situation provided a unique opportunity to examine the development of strategies within social movement organizations. In this dissertation, I use comparative case studies to determine why, in response to similar threats, unions in different states developed widely differing strategies. Drawing upon interviews with union leaders, members, and allies, as well as archival data and observations of union activities, I find that political opportunity factors, alliances, nature of the threat, resource availability, and public support were the most important influences in shaping these choices, and I devote particular attention to the first two factors.
In addition, I ask why most state-level teachers’ unions did not make use of citizen- initiated ballot tactics, despite their availability in most of the states where these laws passed. I use qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) to identify two scenarios in which ballot tactics were not used. In states where unions are strong and there are allies in the legislature, the ballot is avoided through legislative compromise, but in states where unions are weaker and political contexts unfavorable, unions do not turn to the ballot because there is little perceived chance of winning. I conclude that scholars of social movements must devote more attention to the role of threats and alliances in strategic choice processes.