Teacher Union Power is Still in Full Bloom

As a result of the Janus decision in 2018, no teacher or any public employee has to pay a penny to a union as a condition of employment. The good news is that since then, 20% of workers in non-right-to-work states have dropped out of their unions, according to a report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The not-so-good news is that 70% of teachers nationwide are still willingly paying union dues, a great deal of which goes to politics, specifically to progressive candidates and causes.

The California Teachers Association has the honor of being the biggest political-spending teachers’ union in the country. A recent report reveals that between 1999 and 2020, the 300,000+ member union spent an astonishing $222,940,629 on politics – about $6 million was spent on the federal level, while almost $217 million stayed in the state – with 98.2% of all spending going to Democrats. The top advocacy issues for CTA include regulating charter schools, immigration reform, social justice, and a slew of almost exclusively left-wing causes.

Interestingly, the National Education Association, the largest union in the country with more than 3 million members, spent less than CTA, with “only” $86 million on state and $105 million on national candidates and causes – 98.7% of which went to Democrats. The NEA’s pet causes include gun control, universal healthcare, and a panoply of LGBT gobbledygook.

The other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, is even more politically lopsided than the NEA – pouring out almost $63 million at the federal level and more than $24 million at the state level. A whopping 99.9% of their political outlay went to Democrats, and a minuscule .1% to Republicans.

It is with no sense of irony that NEA boss Becky Pringle asserts that the creeping influence of politics in classrooms is a threat to education. “All of the politicians and pundits who are trying to politicize our school, demonize teachers, which is new, who are not focused on what our kids need or what our parents say they want for their kids.”

It’s worth noting that it’s not just teachers’ unions that are big lefty spenders. According to a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation. the four largest government unions, the NEA, AFT, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent $708.8 million on politics during the 2021–22 election cycle, with 95.7% of PAC contributions go to Democratic candidates and organizations.

On the other hand, representational activities, the spending category most closely linked to membership support, only accounted for $554 million, or less than 20% of total expenditures. 

One of the teachers’ unions’ time-honored tactics is the strike. The NEA insists that “strikes work.” Well, maybe they do for the strikers, but for children, their parents, and taxpayers, they can be devastating. Most recently, teachers in Portland – one of the nation’s shutdown leaders during the time of COVID hysteria – decided to take most of the month of November and spend it on the picket lines.

Teachers weren’t actually starving before the strike, making $87,000 for 192 days of work. And while they were locking children out of school, they didn’t somberly march with picket signs. Instead, they partied!

Kim McGair, a parent who has a high-school senior in Portland, summed it up. “They’re partying on the picket line. It’s quite a rager down there. Dancing and cheering. They had a strike-a-palooza. They had beer and roller skating. It’s like a party. And that hurts the kids, the high schoolers who are old enough to understand what’s going on.”

And the striker-partiers didn’t have to worry about pay, receiving $120 a day from the Oregon Education Association, the state union of which the Portland Teachers Association is an affiliate. 

Then, after the strike was settled and the dancing stopped, the union took to Facebook – on the first day of Hannukah, no less – to promote several local events, many of which had an anti-Israel theme. One event, titled “Palestine 101: Teach-In and Joint Struggle Panel,” taught attendees about “the creation of the Zionist state” and “the legacies of Palestinian resistance.” 

The Portland Teachers Association’s historical ignorance and/or Jew hatred is hardly a one-off for teachers’ unions. The Oakland Education Association, when it isn’t consumed with protecting incompetent teachers, also swings in that direction. The union released a statement in late October condemning the “75-year-long illegal military occupation of Palestine,” accusing the Israeli government of creating an “apartheid state” and using “genocidal rhetoric and policies” against Palestinians.

Additionally, teachers’ unions in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and elsewhere took a highly slanted view toward the recent events in the Middle East.

One significant loss for the teachers’ union occurred in Wisconsin when Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 became law in 2011. The measure all but eliminated collective bargaining for teachers and created a marketplace where school districts could compete for better educators by paying valued teachers more.

Barbara Biasi, an assistant Professor of Economics at the Yale School of Management, has studied teacher salaries. Focusing on Act 10, she found that there’s a “34% increase in the quality of teachers moving from salary-schedule to individual-salary districts and a 17% decrease in the quality of teachers exiting individual-salary districts.” In fact, about half of Wisconsin’s school districts abandoned their lock-step salary schedules to the teachers’ unions’ great chagrin and began to pay teachers for performance, for having advanced math and science skills, taking difficult assignments, etc.

But now some unions have filed a lawsuit, arguing that Act 10 violates the equal protection guarantee in the Wisconsin Constitution by dividing public employees into “general” and “public safety” employees. (For better or worse, the decision to carve out an exemption for police and firefighters was done in recognition of the higher risks such workers take on the job and the need for retention and recruitment).

At the end of the day, all public employee unions should be done away with. Traditionally, they had been illegal because “all Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.”

The above caveat was not issued by Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump. The statement was made by progressive icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Additionally, George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO for 24 years, stated in 1955, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

Both men understood that the very nature of government makes it wrong for its leaders to enter into negotiations with any union. When government unions negotiate, they often sit across the table from people they helped put in office with generous campaign contributions. And when these unions go on strike, they walk out on the taxpayer.

While outlawing the entrenched government unions is a longshot, it is certainly worth pursuing. In the meantime, Missouri Congressman Eric Burlison has proposed a good partial measure: the Worker’s Choice Act of 2023, which would give workers a real alternative to union membership, by getting rid of forced representation.

The way things are now, if a teacher doesn’t belong to a union, he or she is still forced to abide by the collective bargaining agreement. Under Burlison’s proposed reform, individual workers could negotiate contracts directly with their employers, as workers at nonunionized companies do. 

Different workers could agree to different contracts with the same employer. Some might do better than union-negotiated agreements, while others might not. Yet individual workers know what they value. “Some might negotiate different pay for different benefits or more flexibility. More than 93% of private-sector workers already have the freedom to negotiate their own contracts.” This worker’s choice legislation would be a boon for government workers.

In the meantime, there are too many kids rotting away in teacher union-ruled schools and taxpayers are being taxed at higher and higher rates to support the unions’ agenda. Something must be done. Maintaining Act 10 and implementing Burlison’s plan would certainly help.

Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: Los Angeles, CA - March 23:LAUSDs Erika Silva, a psychiatric social worker at Sunrise Elementary School in UTLA, rallies those around her as support staff fight for better wages at LA State Historic Park in downtown Los Angeles during the SEIU/UTLA strike on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)