National Education Association: Big Union Bully on the Left

While anti-bullying programs for students are currently in vogue in our nation’s schools, teachers need to recognize that they too are being victimized.

As president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network (CTEN), I talk to people about teachers and education all the time. Politically speaking, most people think that teachers are to the left of center. But in fact, teachers typically replicate the political population of the area in which they live. A teacher in Los Angeles is more likely to be left of center along with the rest of the local population. The average teacher in Fresno leans to the right, as is the norm for that farming community.

Interestingly, the National Education Association has done some polling on this issue. In the Fall 2010 issue of Education Next, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci reports, “NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.”

In last week’s Communiqué, Antonucci’s weekly newsletter, he tells us, “An Education Intelligence Agency analysis of NEA’s financial disclosure report for the 2009-10 fiscal year reveals the national union contributed more than $13 million to a wide variety of advocacy groups and charities. The total was about half the amount disbursed in the previous year, though more than in 2007-08.”

Considering the rightward slant of its membership, one might guess that the union’s political spending might go in that direction.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Though some went to organizations with no particular political bent, like the San Diego Public Library Foundation and a little even went to right-of-center groups like the Ripon Society and the Republican Main Street Partnership, the vast majority of that $13 million went to liberal and left wing groups that have nothing to do with education. Just to mention a few – People for the American Way, National Action Network, Media Matters, Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, National Women’s Law Center and the Rainbow PUSH coalition.

Now you ask, “Why would an organization purporting to be for teachers give so much money to organizations that have nothing to do with teachers or education? And since, by its own polling, most of the rank and file is to the right-of-center, why does the great majority of union largess go to left-of-center organizations?

The simple answer is that these decisions are made by the union elites whose politics swing way to the left and don’t give a damn about what the rank and file thinks. Just like any other oligarchy, decisions are top down with no input from the masses.

Making this situation even more infuriating, 28 states and D.C. are non-right-to-work states, meaning that union membership is a condition of employment. In these states, teachers are forced to pay union dues – and then watch as their money is spent in a way that they find objectionable or offensive.

Teachers, however, do have some redress. They can opt out of the political part of union spending, though they will still be forced to pay their “fair share” to the union for collective bargaining whether or not they want the union to represent them.

How many teachers actually do opt out? The unions know but never have divulged that information. Whatever that number is, it is too low. The bulk of its 3.2 million members are to the right of center. Why are any of them supporting the transparent left wing agenda of the nation’s biggest union? Maybe it’s ignorance of the fact that they can opt out of political spending. Or maybe it’s apathy.

In any event, teachers need to become more informed about their union and its spending habits. Those who are not happy need to learn what they can do to remove themselves as the union’s political ATM. A good place to get information and learn about the opt-out process is the CTEN web page that deals with these issues.

It’s time for independent and right-of-center teachers to demand some of their money back from the NEA bullies who force them to pay dues and spend that money in unacceptable ways.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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