California’s uncompromising teachers unions

By Larry Sand
May 22, 2018

With a SCOTUS decision imminent in the Janus case, California’s teachers unions are showing no signs of becoming more politically balanced.

In last week’s post, I suggested that if the Janus case was successful in the Supreme Court, the political fallout, generally speaking, would be “somewhat to considerable.” The case, which would make union dues-paying for teachers and other public employees optional, is expected to be decided within a matter of weeks.

But in California, the ramifications lean more toward “considerable” because its teachers unions are showing no sign of softening their leftist-only political stances or messaging. The California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the state, sends virtually all its donations in a leftward direction. In the upcoming June primary and November election, the union has endorsed 106 candidates on the state and national level, 105 of whom are Democrats. (Not for nothing is the Democratic Party in California referred to as a wing of the powerful union.) As such, one might think that just about every teacher in California is a Democrat but, according to former CTA President Dean Vogel, about 35 percent of CTA’s 300,000 or so members are Republicans.

And then there is CTA’s smaller sibling, the California Federation of Teachers, which boasts 120,000 members. When President Josh Pechthalt gave a state of the union address at the CFT convention in March, it could have been a good opportunity to reach across the aisle in an attempt to woo right-leaning members.

But his talk was anything but woo-ish. A few of Pechthalt’s pearls:

Trump’s election had unmasked some dark truths about this country…We need to make sure that Democrats continue moving in a progressive direction…CFT supports single payer or Medicare for All…taking back the House of Representatives will be key in pushing back the Trump agenda and winning the White House in 2020….

So CFT, like CTA, is showing no hint of becoming the least bit ecumenical.

On a national level, current data  show that 92.7 percent of the National Education Association’s (CTA’s national partner) contributions go to Democrats, while CFT’s parent American Federation of Teachers’ political gifts are even more one-sided with 99.9 percent going to Dems.

Just about all the unions’ income comes from their members’ dues payments. CTA/NEA plucks a hefty $866 per year from teachers’ paychecks and AFT/CFT charges their members $747 yearly. The local union tacks on another $200 or so in both cases. (Even if teachers like their local union, which mostly avoids political spending, they can’t remain “local only” members because, absent a cumbersome disaffiliation process, the state and national unions are mandatory partners, due to rigged union rules.)

Unsurprisingly, the main reasons teachers give for not supporting their union are to save money and an unwillingness to contribute to an organization that does not represent their political values. Given a choice, right-of-center California teachers can kill both union birds with one stone. They will be able to save over a thousand hard-earned dollars a year that would have otherwise been used in good part to support candidates and causes she not only disagrees with but may find morally repugnant.

If teachers start to leave en masse, will unions then modify their one-way political spending, or will they continue to motor down the left side of the road, but with less firepower?

To be continued.

Larry Sand, a former 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.