The Teachers’ Unions Are More Political than Ever

In the past, teachers’ unions concentrated on fighting to keep all teachers employed—competent or otherwise—laying off teachers by seniority when necessary and soaking taxpayers every chance they could. While those activities are still part of their mission, they have, over time, increasingly delved into the political/social realm, promoting Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, DEI, class warfare, gender-bending, etc. And their current level of engagement is staggering.

Americans for Fair Treatment, a national nonprofit organization that educates public employees about their rights in a unionized workplace, recently released a report detailing the National Education Association’s (NEA) financial filings from Sept. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2023.

The NEA declared that its political spending totaled $50.1 million during the fiscal year, though the true number is much higher. During the most recent reporting period, the union disclosed that it spent “$126.3 million on ‘contributions, gifts, and grants,’ which is where most unions detail their charitable giving.”

However, a closer look at the union’s “contributions, gifts, and grants” shows that the NEA is directing more money towards political causes than it reports. For example, the union contributed $4.1 million to the State Engagement Fund, a progressive advocacy group, and $3.5 million to For Our Future, a Democratic super PAC. Another $500,000 was donated to the Color of Change Education Fund, which has ties to progressive billionaire George Soros.

The disclosure also reveals that the union spent $10 million more on politics and lobbying than it did representing its members. While NEA’s representational spending increased by about $2 million compared to the previous reporting period, spending on politics and lobbying increased by $8.5 million.

It’s worth noting that as a 501(c)(5), the NEA and, in fact, all unions have a special tax-exempt status with the IRS, which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.”

Local teachers’ unions are also involved in political spending. In Chicago, where just 15% of Chicago’s 8th-grade students are proficient in math and 21% are proficient in reading, the Chicago Teachers Union is focused on other things. As the Illinois Policy Institute documents, the union spent nearly three times more on politics in 2023 than the year before, and just 17% of its spending was on representing teachers.

A 142-page leaked document contains hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union contract demands, including 100% abortion coverage to pay for surrogates and housing students in old schools.

The CTU is also demanding a 100% electric bus fleet and fuel-efficient drivers’ education vehicles, installation of solar panels and other facility upgrades, compensation, and medical benefits for absences related to “verbal assault,” etc.

In preparing for CTU’s collective bargaining talks with the city, the union’s president, Stacy Davis Gates, asserted the new contract would cost taxpayers $50 billion.

Importantly, the teachers’ unions’ political involvement does not stop with spending. They now routinely make policy statements and demands, most notably on the recent strife in the Middle East.

In November, the United Educators of San Francisco contended that Israel’s military campaign violated the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights but made no mention of the brutal Oct. 7 attacks or the captivity of over 200 hostages.

In December, a pro-Palestinian “teach-in” was organized by the Oakland Education Association, and members developed special lesson plans in defiance of the local school board. The same month, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, demanded a permanent truce in the Middle East on Twitter—a position that was later reaffirmed by the organization’s board of directors.

In late January, the American Federation of Teachers officially called for a cessation of hostilities.

Additionally, Heritage Foundation scholar Jay Greene reports that a measure adopted by the NEA-affiliated Massachusetts Teachers Association board in December declared, “The MTA president and vice president will urge the president of the NEA to pressure President Biden to stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Greene also notes that the executive committee of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers passed a resolution condemning “the system of Israeli occupation and apartheid.” However, backlash from teachers and the community led the union to issue an apology.

What can be done about the onslaught of union political activity?

The big-picture solution is for teachers’ unions to be banned. Period.

“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.”

Progressive icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued the above caveat about government unions. Additionally, George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO for 24 years, once stated, “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 negotiate with any union. When government unions bargain, 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.

However, getting rid of these established unions is highly unlikely, primarily because political spending by government unions inevitably favors union-friendly candidates.

Prohibiting collective bargaining would reduce union power, but only five states currently prohibit that activity for public employees: Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Ultimately, teachers hold the key. If they stopped paying dues, the unions would cease to exist. Legally, they can now do so courtesy of the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, which asserted that 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 the SCOTUS ruling, 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 bad news is that 70% of teachers nationwide still willingly pay union dues.

As a teacher, if your politics are on the right, centrist, or maybe you are apolitical, do you really want hundreds of your dues dollars going to the leftist causes that the state and national unions regularly support?

It is with no sense of irony that NEA boss Becky Pringle asserts that politics’ “creeping influence” in classrooms threatens 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.”

Pringle has it backward. Clearly, the number one educational “influence creeps” are the teachers’ unions.

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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.

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Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for task task says:

    The author believes that government unions should be terminated. He sees them the way Orwell saw socialism and communism. He is absolutely correct. They represent a backdoor approach. Under the cloak of Constitutionalism, government unions have used their influence to destroy originalism. Unions, for obvious reasons, should never have been allowed to enter into the government (Federal and State) and especially so when considering that a symbiotic relation now exists between them and the powerful bureaucracies. That relationship has metastasized into the legislative branches. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are influenced by the Teacher’s unions just as were the Connecticut legislators by the Puritans prior to the Civil War. Federal and State bureaucracies do not possess just an advisory role. They create laws, statues and regulations and then conduct hearings, render decisions, impose fines, penalties and incarceration sentences. In other words the Executive Branch has flaunted the “Separation of Powers Doctrine” and taken on the role of the legislative and judicial branches. Not only does that overshadow original intentions but, even worse, is that government unions have aided and abetted the breech of the protective Constitutional firewalls. They are Trojan Horses. The powerful bureaucracies have the force of a “Standing Army” (IRS, EPA, FBI, etc.). The powerful Teacher’s Union has the ability to control the powerful Department of Education. The presence of unions associated with government employees is as far removed from the concept of small government and freedom as is Liberty from Tyranny. There is nothing wrong with collective bargaining. There is a lot wrong with such bargaining by employees inside the government.

    Had unions existed prior to the ratification of the Bill of Rights the First Amendment would have surely mentioned them in the same way it mentioned religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or of unions…”. And Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists might have read: “a wall of separation between church, unions and state”.

    In 1918, had Unions been present in Russia, the Bolsheviks would never have needed to violently overthrow the monarchy. Unions would have managed to have introduced communism slowly, under the radar, just as government unions are now doing in America. It started with the Department of Education. Without that Department, and the symbiotic relationship with the powerful Teacher’s Union, there would be no DEI, 1619 project, Critical Race Theory and the spoiled misguided BLM offspring. And beyond K12 there would be no high tuition costs because most education costs, at the higher levels, is paid for by unnecessary indoctrination solely designed to polish off what was started earlier. It could never have happened without government unions and generations of “Randi” Weingarten like union heads.

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