Keith Williams is a Lancaster County native and worked 21 years as a Pennsylvania public school English teacher before joining Americans For Fair Treatment as PA Director of Outreach in May 2018. He majored in English and Education at Geneva College.
Keith joined the English department in Conewago Valley School District in 2000. For 13 years, he taught a unique 11thgrade experiential education course entitled Wilderness Literature, which focused on cultural and literary perceptions of the wilderness and land preservation.
Keith’s coursework involved taking students on extended weekend trips to rural cabins on the Appalachian Trail. There, students re-lived the winter experience of authors like Henry David Thoreau by relying on a wood stove and functioning without electricity or running water. Other wilderness literature destinations included 10 to 12-day field study excursions to the Pacific Northwest and Acadia, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks.
Keith has also coached track & field and cross-country throughout his career and was involved in search & rescue efforts in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In addition to his packed schedule as an educator and coach, Keith also built a successful home inspection company and coaches business owners in the skilled trades on marketing and business development.
Keith’s initial interaction with teachers’ unions was typical for many early-career educators: “I remember my first year of teaching, on my first in-service day, a teacher took me aside and said, ‘You need the union because they’ll protect you and they have the professional liability insurance you need.’”
He joined the union but left after only a year.
Keith became active in reforming how teachers’ unions work when the local union at Conewago Valley, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), negotiated fair share fees for non-members in their 2013-14 contract. About 45 teachers, including Keith, were suddenly required to contribute some $450 each year to a union they had declined to join.
Keith and his fellow teachers were stunned—and outraged.
Keith and his colleagues refused to sit back, however. They publicized in local and statewide media how the new agency-shop arrangement at Conewago Valley was infringing on the freedom of association of dozens of teachers. The politically diverse group, which consisted of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, complained to local union leaders and the school district’s administration about being forced to financially support a union.
Within two years, the teachers’ public outcry had worked. Despite pressure from the PSEA to continue with forced dues, the local union agreed to drop the agency fees in the next round of contract negotiations. Keith and his colleagues were again free to teach.
Now Keith wants to empower teachers and other types of government workers across Pennsylvania.