Over a fourth of El Monte’s residents live in poverty, but, among public-sector workers poverty is unlikely. Retired City Manager James Mundessen told the LA Times that he personally receives $216,000 a year in retirement – an amount that finances a lavish lifestyle that includes golfing trips in Scotland. Mundessen is one of eight city officials collecting over $200,000 per year.
|Name||Title||Pension System||Last Employer||Total Amount Received||Pension Amount||Benefits Amount||Disability Amount||Years of Service||Year of Retirement||Reporting Year||notes|
|Charles Mehringer||Los Angeles County Pension||COASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC||419665.92||395466.6||24199.32||0||41.62||2015||2015|
|Michael D Johnson||CalPERS||COUNTY OF SOLANO||388407.56||388407.56||42.9||2011||2015|
|William Habermehl||CalSTRS||ORANGE COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION||354643.38||354643.38||47.15||2012||2015|
|Fawzy I Fawzy||Teaching Faculty||University of California||Los Angeles||354469.44||354469.44||40.44||2014||2014|
|Robert Morin||Los Angeles County Pension||COASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC||344079.72||319880.4||24199.32||0||52.67||2015||2015|
|Leroy Baca||Los Angeles County Pension||SHERIFF||342849.36||328410.24||14439.12||0||48.08||2014||2015|
|Dennis L Matthews||Non-Teaching Faculty||University of California||Davis||342635.88||342635.88||39.08||2012||2014|
|Stephen R Maguin||CalPERS||LOS ANGELES COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT NO. 2||340810.7||340810.7||41||2012||2015|
|Joaquin M Fuster||CalPERS||UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT LOS ANGELES||338412||338412||45.2||2002||2015|
|Marvin Marcus||Teaching Faculty||University of California||Los Angeles||337346.16||337346.16||40.57||2011||2014|
|Thomas Tidemanson||Los Angeles County Pension||PUBLIC WORKS||336988.56||312789.24||24199.32||0||38.75||1994||2015|
|Larry Waldie||Los Angeles County Pension||SHERIFF||336838.08||319170.12||17667.96||0||44.08||2011||2015|
|Thomas Orloff||District Attorney||Alameda County Pension||335865.84||335865.84||2015|
|Carol Meyer||Los Angeles County Pension||HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION||329218.8||300886.56||28332.24||0||41.37||2011||2015|
|Ruth E Stringer||County Counsel||San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA)||County of San Bernardino||328945.95||328945.95||33.44||2011||2015|
|Michael Judge||Los Angeles County Pension||PUBLIC DEFENDER||328867.2||311199.24||17667.96||0||41||2010||2015|
|John S Greenspan||Teaching Faculty||University of California||San Francisco||326070.12||326070.12||38.17||2014||2014|
|Harry Stone||Los Angeles County Pension||PUBLIC WORKS||324113.04||312666.24||11446.8||0||40.58||2001||2015|
|Rinaldo Canalis||Los Angeles County Pension||COASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC||320766.6||296567.28||24199.32||0||36.67||2010||2015|
|Stephen Cooley||Los Angeles County Pension||DISTRICT ATTORNEY||318530.88||304091.76||14439.12||0||40.04||2012||2015|
|Donald R Gerth||PRESIDENT||CalPERS||CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY AT SACRAMENTO||317324.12||317324.12||47.3||2003||2015|
|Hye Kyung Kim||EXEMPT MED STF PHYSI||Contra Costa County Pension||CONTRA COSTA COUNTY||316886.42||316886.42||0||32.69||2011||2015|
|George W Breslauer||Non-Teaching Faculty||University of California||Berkeley||315720.48||315720.48||43.23||2014||2014|
|David Goldstein||Los Angeles County Pension||NORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)||314553.48||292811.16||21742.32||0||35||2012||2015|
|Albert Niden||Los Angeles County Pension||NORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)||314364.36||302917.56||11446.8||0||39.92||2013||2015|
|Heinrich R Schelbert||Teaching Faculty||University of California||Los Angeles||314026.56||314026.56||40.54||2013||2014|
|Raymond Fortner Jr||Los Angeles County Pension||COUNTY COUNSEL||313884.6||289685.28||24199.32||0||39.33||2009||2015|
|Richard Bray||CalSTRS||TUSTIN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT||312921.24||312921.24||43.83||2011||2015|
|Michael Peterson||Captain||Alameda County Pension||311967.96||311967.96||2015|
|William Garrett||CalPERS||CITY OF EL CAJON||311364.84||311364.84||38.5||2004||2015|
|Edward Hernandez Jr||CalSTRS||RANCHO SANTIAGO COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT||310269.3||310269.3||40.31||2010||2015|
|Allan D Siefkin||Non-Teaching Faculty||University of California||Davis||309593.04||309593.04||36.17||2014||2014|
|Ramesh Verma||Los Angeles County Pension||SFV CLUSTER-OLIVE VIEW/UCLA MC||308935.08||291267.12||17667.96||0||36.62||2011||2015|
|Nosratola D Vaziri||Teaching Faculty||University of California||Irvine||308320.08||308320.08||36.75||2011||2014|
|Virginia Shattuck||CalSTRS||NORWALK-LA MIRADA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT||306346.86||306346.86||47.94||2009||2015|
|Daniel Ikemoto||Los Angeles County Pension||AUDITOR - CONTROLLER||306270||294823.2||11446.8||0||38.58||1993||2015|
|Albert Yellin||Los Angeles County Pension||NORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)||305836.32||281637||24199.32||0||39.67||2002||2015|
|Vena Ricketts||Los Angeles County Pension||SFV CLUSTER-OLIVE VIEW/UCLA MC||304440.24||298736.52||5703.72||0||35.67||2013||2015|
|Sharon Harper||Los Angeles County Pension||SHERIFF||303913.44||290600.64||13312.8||0||40.5||2010||2015|
|Joe W Gray||Non-Teaching Faculty||University of California||Lawrence Berkeley||303855.96||303855.96||38.56||2011||2014|
|Alfred Zucker||CalSTRS||LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT||303624.99||303624.99||35.82||2015||2015|
|Richard W Roll||Non-Teaching Faculty||University of California||Los Angeles||303170.28||303170.28||34.8||2014||2014|
|Richard A Beemer||Undersheriff||San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA)||County of San Bernardino||302917.17||302917.17||38.82||2010||2015|
|Dewitt Clinton||Los Angeles County Pension||COUNTY COUNSEL||301882.8||280815.84||21066.96||0||36.92||1998||2015|
|James F Stahl||CalPERS||LOS ANGELES COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT NO. 2||301801.96||301801.96||37.7||2007||2015|
|Robert Mann||Los Angeles County Pension||SHERIFF||301174.32||276975||24199.32||0||33.42||1999||2015|
“Political Parties,” published by the German political theorist Roberto Michels in 1911, is a relatively obscure book. But in this book, Michels offers a concept that has increasing relevance today, the “Iron Law of Oligarchy.” This law is summed up reasonably well in its Wikipedia entry:
“According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a ‘leadership class’, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons, political strategists, organizers, etc. for the organization. Far from being ‘servants of the masses’, Michels argues this ‘leadership class,’ rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably grow to dominate the organization’s power structures. By controlling who has access to information, those in power can centralize their power successfully, often with little accountability, due to the apathy, indifference and non-participation most rank-and-file members have in relation to their organization’s decision-making processes. Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made ‘democratically’ by members. Michels stated that the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule was impossible, that representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.”
When Michels came up with this, the technological tools that enabled the powerful to control information were newspapers and radio. The bureaucracies that constituted the “leadership class” were also limited by the technologies available 100 years ago.
Today, two corporations, Google and Facebook, control over half the news and information being viewed by Americans. Our government bureaucracies have the ability to monitor every credit transaction, every email, all online activity. By tracking our phones and the GPS systems in our cars, they know where we go. With facial recognition software and ubiquitous cameras, they can find us even without our phones or our cars. Soon, if not already, they will be able to follow us with drones and micro-drones. Before long, they’ll even be able to disable us or arrest us using robotic devices.
If Michels is right, that the increasing capacities of bureaucratic organizations makes rule by elites inevitable, than the challenges that poses to 21st century democracies dwarf those of 100 years ago. And in this context, the union takeover of our government bureaucracies becomes all the more ominous. Because it underscores the one of the most unrecognized and under-reported scandals of our time: Government unions are not protecting us from oligarchy. They are enforcing it.
It is risky to assert that the communications and information revolution guarantees the advance of freedom and liberty. It’s even risky to assert that these advances guarantee the advance of democracy. Because the sophistication of these new technologies are matched not only by their ability to monitor every American, but by their ability to manipulate. The oligarchs have the wealth, the bureaucrats have the power. Which means that for the most part, their propagandists write the words, and their programmers write the algorithms.
As a consequence, many of the questions we should be asking are largely off the table. Should we slow down immigration and allow our culture time to assimilate recent arrivals? Should we slap tariffs on products that are dumped into our market? Should we assert family values and the virtues of Western Civilization? Should we break up big banks, enforce the “Volcker Rule,” and eliminate the carried interest loophole? Should we stop engaging in endless wars of “nation building” and focus instead on strategic and technological superiority, which would cost less and deliver long term security? Should we develop all forms of clean energy, and redirect our environmental priorities to preserving global fisheries and wildlife? Should we force schools to be accountable and compete for students by offering choices?
No. No. No. No. No. No. And No. Why? Because these policies are not profitable to oligarchs, whose investments are global and whose monopolies benefit from an over-regulated market where emerging small innovators can’t compete. These policies are also anathema to the bureaucracy, because they would elevate the quality of life for the average American – which would mean less unionized government. The more social fragmentation, the more government. The more dependency and poverty, the more government. The more war, the more government.The more rules and restrictions, the more government. The more ignorance, the more government.
The iron law of oligarchy is alive and well in 21st century America, with a twist or two. The corrupt elitist coalition that has undermined American liberties – and is just getting started – is comprised of oligarchs and government unions. One may argue that America has always been an oligarchy. But the rise of high technology and unionized government may spell the difference between a benevolent oligarchy, if there is such a thing, and an authoritarian one.
* * *
Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.
A bill, near passage, would require you and me to pay for union indoctrination sessions in California.
California is a fabulous place. Fantastic weather, fertile fields, glorious mountains and a thousand mile coastline have long beckoned many to the Golden State.
And then there is the state legislature.
This law-making body is very far from fabulous. Its main activities in our one-party state are taxing, spending and regulating our business community, workers and economy to death. Additionally, many of its members are in the pocket of the California Teachers Association, which is by far the biggest political spender in the state, unleashing $290 million on candidates and causes between 2000 and 2013.
The latest legislative sop to the unions is AB 2835, a CTA-co-sponsored bill that, if it passes, will force local governments, including school districts, to provide 30-minute in-person orientations, paid for by the taxpayer, to each and every new public employee during work hours within the first two months of their being hired. But as pointed out by several government officials in a piece that ran in the East Bay Times recently, cities, counties and special districts already do that, spending “the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.”
However, AB 2835 goes way beyond that, requiring local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation it provides – for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost no restrictions, to new employees. “It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.”
This requirement would place an enormous administrative burden on government, and it won’t come cheap. The California State Department of Finance has estimated that the mandate would cost taxpayers “more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”
AB 2835 would especially pose logistical problems for schools because the 30 minute orientation sessions would be held during the work day. Colleges, which have numerous collective bargaining units, would be especially affected. As the Association of California Community College Administrators points out, allowing each collective bargaining unit 30 minutes to make a presentation, “will result in a significant length of time, which will require colleges to hire additional staff to cover classes and other critical campus safety services during the orientations.”
Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by a gaggle of labor organizations. In addition to CTA, the California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and SEIU are behind it. The opposition includes the California School Boards Association, the League of California Cities and the Association of California School Administrators.
Just as onerous as the cost and disruptiveness will be the quality of the orientation session. This is going to be a hard sales pitch, plain and simple. Or, in less polite terms, indoctrination. I guarantee that the results of a study released in April by the Heritage Foundation – which found that between 1957 and 2011, mandatory collective bargaining costs a family of four between $2,300 and $3,000 a year – will not be a topic of discussion.
Also missing from the pitch will be a recent study by Cornell researcher Michael Lovenheim. He found that “laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.”
Will the orientation stress that collective bargaining creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers? Or that it decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making? Or that it protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change? Or that it restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees? Nah.
AB 2835 was birthed when CTA leaders were frightened that the Friedrichs decision was going to go against them and decided they needed to deliver a sales pitch to teachers who would no longer be forced to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. But with Antonin Scalia’s death and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to rehear the case, this bill is irrelevant; CTA and the smaller California Federation of Teachers still have a captive audience. Just about every public school teacher in the state will continue to be forced to pay a union if they want a job in a public school. But if CTA and other unions still insist on trying to convince prospective members of their value, they should do it after hours and not ding the taxpayer in the process.
The bill sailed through the California State Assembly and now rests in the State Senate where it must be voted on by August 31st – tomorrow, for it to become law. So, if you live in the Beholden State, please contact your state senator immediately and keep your fingers crossed. And should the bill become law, prepare for even more money to be transferred from your wallet to the unions’ already healthy coffers.
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.
The unions are trying to take the “we’re in it for the kids” shtick to a new level by declaring that they now collectively bargain for “the common good.”
Last week, The American Prospect posted “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good,’” which claims that unions across the country are “expanding their focus to the broader community.” All this is code for, “We don’t want to come off as selfish, so while we are still going to push for our typical me-first (and only) union agenda, we are going to try to deceive the public into believing that we really care about kids and taxpayers.”
According to the piece, public employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and came up with a 3-point plan: use the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; work with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognize militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.
The lofty but ultimately meaningless verbiage led the writer of the piece to conclude that “The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.”
Politicize bargaining?! That’s all collective bargaining in education is and ever was – pure, unadulterated, no additives, not-made-from-concentrate – politics. The union sits at a table with school board members and hashes out contracts that, more often than not, are detrimental to students, good teachers and taxpayers. Collective bargaining agreements inhibit creativity and treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. Additionally, the taxpayer gets to foot the bill for goodies like Cadillac healthcare plans that the union – and frequently their bought-and-paid-for school board – collude on and ratify.
There is a ton of evidence that the cuddly, kind and caring teacher union concept is a fraud. Here are just a few recent examples:
In last week’s post, I wrote about a situation in Yonkers, NY where a union president and vice-president are both caught on video trying to help a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a child while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks. (It was actually staged by investigative journalist James O’Keefe.) As all concerned parties investigate the union leaders’ responses, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers has asked the taxpayer subsidized school district to continue paying Paul Diamond, the union vice-president, his salary while he performs his union duties for the 2016-17 school year. Not unique to Yonkers, this phenomenon, known as “release time,” goes on all over the country and is an absolute outrage. It’s a practice that allows a public employee to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, all the while giving the union a free worker. The employee’s activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. Diamond will not spend one minute teaching. No evidence of “citizen power” here.
Next, a school district in Illinois just awarded its teachers a 10-year contract that includes a 40 percent salary increase over its term, preserves a pre-retirement, 6 percent yearly pay spike to boost teachers’ pensions, an increase in sick-days from 15 to 24 per year, and a freeze on health insurance and prescription drug costs for district employees for the 10-year period. “Shared goals?” In what universe?
On the state level, we have a situation in California that doesn’t involve collective bargaining but certainly calls into question whose “common good” is being served. Contra Costa Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 would change both seniority and tenure as we know it. The bill includes a provision that offers ineffective teachers extra professional support. If a teacher receives a second low-performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process. It would also increase the time for a teacher to attain tenure (or more accurately “permanent status”) from two to three or four years, depending on their performance. Additionally, seniority would no longer be the single most important factor in handing out pink slips. This is hardly radical stuff and would certainly make for a more effective teaching profession in the Golden State.
But the most powerful special interest group in the state, the California Teachers Association, is fighting the bill. Blithely casting the needs of kids aside, the union first claimed the bill “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” (Yes, just like every other profession in the world.) In a subsequent post on its website, the union went bonkers, claiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.” And that was just the beginning. To read the rest of this bizarre rant, go here. But in any event, we know whose posterior CTA is trying to protect, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “reducing inequality.”
And then there is the pension situation. In California, the state teachers’ retirement system is currently experiencing a $70 billion shortfall. Is CTA willing to accept some responsibility and work to make adjustments for the common good? The union’s response to the nightmare that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the already beleaguered taxpayer is to try to kill any reforms, maintain the miserable status quo and blame Wall Street and “corporate greed.” “Strengthening democracy?” Hardly.
Finally, last week in National Review, former Florida governor Jeb Bush laid out a plan to save America’s education system. His excellent piece included such basic ideas as letting parents choose from a marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools, with education funding following the child. He wants to weed out failing schools and reward good and great teachers for hard work and results. But each of these ideas is fought on a daily basis by the teachers unions, since they would lose much of their power and income if Bush’s ideas were to be implemented on a grand scale.
“Bargaining for the common good” is just a touchy-feely catchphrase which shouldn’t fool anyone. The teachers unions are not acting in anyone else’s best interest. And there is little good about them, common or otherwise.
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.
San Joaquin Valley’s Fresno County can boast about more than its raisins.
Clovis, a city of about 100,000 located right next to Fresno in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley, has a particular distinction: the city’s schools have never been unionized. Of course, the California Teachers Association dons pretend that Clovis doesn’t even exist because the district works quite well for teachers and kids without an organized labor presence. No, teachers aren’t fired “for advocating for their students,” aren’t bound and tortured by sadistic principals and aren’t slaving away for minimum wage.
As reported in a recent piece by Joe Mathews, Clovis is the 16th largest school district in California, with 42,000 students, 49 schools, and 5,000 employees. The student body is ethnically mixed, and about half of its children are on free or reduced lunch.
Back in the 1970s, when the teacher unionization epidemic hit California, Clovis superintendent Floyd Buchanan and the city’s teachers decided that they could handle the k-12 education process themselves, thus avoiding divisive union dictats and strict work rules that have infected almost all other school districts in the Golden State. While state law mandates much of what happens in school districts, including union imperatives like tenure and seniority rules, everything else is left to the local district – teacher salaries and benefits, curriculum, school calendar, student safety issues, etc.
Teachers certainly have a voice and a role in governance, though. Instead of a union, they have a Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”
Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. Also, Clovis teachers pay no union dues while Fresno teachers are saddled with forced payments of $983 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association. (For under $200 a year, Clovis teachers can and do join the Association of American Educators to ensure they have liability insurance and other perks of belonging to a professional association.) Also, as Faculty Senate president Duane Goudy told me in an email, “Our health benefits plan (we are self-insured) costs less and is one of the best in the state.”
And students in Clovis are prospering. As reported by the Fresno Bee in 2014, a study by Oakland-based nonprofit Education Trust-West looked at academic performance in more than 140 school districts and showed that California generally fares poorly, with most districts receiving either a C or D grade. “Of the nine districts surveyed in the central San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, Central, Madera and Visalia Unified’s, seven received a C or a D.” But Clovis earned a solid A, having ranked in the top 10 for four straight years. Additionally, students of color graduate at high rates and have been steadily improving on statewide tests. All this and they do it for less. As reported by Goudy, “Our district receives considerably less money per student than Fresno and 18 other districts in our county.”
The real lesson of Clovis is that good education depends not on bloated budgets, bureaucratic paper-pushers and union work rules, but rather on committed teachers and administrators who are dedicated to their students first and foremost.
Can the Clovis model be replicated? Of course. It would take a group of independent-minded teachers with moxie and tenacity to decertify their union, and thus say good-by to the one-size-fits-all regimen of the CTA and their local affiliates. No easy task, to be sure, but certainly doable.
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.
The union war on charter schools has become even uglier, courtesy of UTLA.
On May 4th, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) – a radical union front group – planned a major protest to be held outside schools where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools. In a statement, AROS proclaimed “…we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.” Of course, the truth is that charters are not “corporate.” And, in fact, it’s charters that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to scrounge for facilities, but AROS apparently doesn’t bother with those minor details. So it looked like a lot of school kids would be confronted with an early morning filled with angry protesters marching, chanting, being obnoxious, you know, the usual union stuff.
But parents were ticked, and with the help of the California Charter School Association, responded by posting a letter – enlarged, prominently placed, in English and Spanish, signed by 527 parents – in the lobby of the building where UTLA offices are housed. The brief but powerful missive included the following:
We are asking you to stop. This Wednesday, May 4, you plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.
Yes, threatening, disruptive and full of lies. But, again, it was a union rally, after all. However, when all was said and done (at least judging by media reports), there was not much activity the morning of the fourth.
But UTLA wasn’t done yet. In an attempt to press beyond the usual vapid vilification of charters, on May 10th, the union released the results of a study they commissioned. Or to be precise, a “study,” which among other things, asserted that LA schools “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.”
Of course, the National Education Association gleefully jumped on the report, charging that, “LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students.” (Memo to NEA: charters are public schools.)
But responses to the report from those in the know were anything but fawning. To begin with, the school district that was allegedly losing millions responded with a “Huh?!” and proceeded to explain that the district actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Guttierez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.”
The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, representing principals and off-site middle managers, released “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” a document which cast doubt on the UTLA findings. But there was no equivocation from the California Charter School Association. In a 10 page response, CCSA excoriated the UTLA report point-by-point, denouncing its many inaccuracies and irresponsible conclusions, and went on to counter it’s distortions with actual facts and data.
Very interestingly, after being chastened by those parties intimately aware of the reality of district-charter finances, UTLA has been mum. No rejoinders. No “Oh yeahs?” No banner on its homepage. Nothing. The only link to the study is buried on its “News Releases” webpage. My call and email to Anna Bakalis, the union’s media person on May 19th, have not been returned. I am hardly shocked.
To UTLA – If you are really interested in solving LAUSD’s budgetary problems, here are a few ideas:
To save billions, insist that the district gets its healthcare and pension costs under control. But you have no interest in doing that because you are of the opinion that taxpayers should be forking over even more of their hard-earned money to continue paying for these extravagant plans.
How about working to get new laws passed that would more easily rid our schools of predatory teachers? LAUSD has spent $300 million since 2012 on legal fees and sexual abuse payouts to families that have sued the district. To be sure, LAUSD admins deserve much of the blame for the problem, but you and other teachers unions greatly contribute to it because you have made it so very hard to get rid of any teacher, no matter how evil.
And while you are at it, work with the district to stop hiring administrators. As the school population continues to rapidly decline due to the proliferation of charters and general outward migration, the district’s administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.
But no, you rather just try to destroy charter schools, which parents are flocking to, because they want to escape from the very school system you essentially control. You just wasted $82,000 in teachers’ dues money on a bogus study which proves you are really not interested in bettering public education. It really has nothing to do with kids, but rather, it’s all about you and your unmitigated, self-serving agenda. But then again, what else is new?
There’s a rift in the American labor movement, and enterprising Republicans might be able to exploit it. Here’s Politico this week, documenting the disagreements between service-sector and labor unions as highlighted in a letter published recently by leading labor unions:
“The labor federation and many of its member unions have embraced environmentalism as a pillar of their progressive agenda, even as Building Trades unions claimed that the environmental movement often threatened the growth of well-paying union jobs.“
Though public-sector and trade unions might be aligned on some things like collective bargaining agreements, their interests could not be further apart on the question of economic development. Public employees and service-sector workers- represented by unions like the SEIU and NEA- operate in the intangible economy based on human relations and services. Construction workers and manufacturers, represented by unions like Teamsters and NABTU, work in the tangible economy of productivity and goods, or what I like to call the “Build-Stuff” economy.
Teamsters and NABTU rely on a heavily stuff-productive economy for their members’ wellbeing. SEIU and NEA do not- they would be just fine with a largely service-based system.
Normally this doesn’t create many rifts. You can have energy and manufacturing and construction alongside housecleaning and county clerking and policing. No conflict of interests there.
But when public-sector and service-sector unions line up with big green activists like Tom Steyer, whose advocacy is based on “de-carbonizing” the economy (and artificially destroying the jobs and industries that depend on carbon emissions) their former friends in the construction and manufacturing unions might have reason to pause. And billionaire green activists like Steyer increasingly dominate the Democratic Party of Jerry Brown, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. The construction unions that once solidly backed the Democrats are being pushed out into the cold, a sacrifice at the green altar of climate change prevention.
There should be a pro-productivity Republican Party out there awaiting them with open arms, ready to unite the interests of labor unions with those of construction, energy, manufacturing, and shipping industries that also make their money off of “building stuff.”
But there won’t be, because there’s decades of bad blood between the Republican Party and labor. That bad blood would complicate the already-tenuous debates labor-business cooperators usually have on issues from the minimum wage to insurance and benefits to overtime compensation. Still, it would seem that minor tweaks to the solidly pro-business agenda of the GOP- and possibly a return to the pre-1970s norm of “iron triangle” bargaining relations between business, labor, and government, as opposed to the post-1980s norm of “free-market” adversarial relations- could help the task of bringing more working-class voters into the GOP along with the unions in which they hold membership.
Republican reformers, I’m afraid, usually operate under the assumption that they know what’s best for workers- increased absolute GDP growth, tax credits, trickle-down “job creation,” and other tidbits of the Reformicon agenda embraced by many moderates in the party leadership. (To be sure, most Democratic government planners have the same disposition, from the opposite side of the spectrum.)
But in the spirit of representative government and self-determination, it would seem that it would be better to assume that workers know what is best for themselves– and that granting them political power through unionization is a better way to empower them to pursue their own interests, than making tweaks to their economic and legal environment and treating them as passive forces to be acted upon by policymakers and businesses.
So here’s a proposal. How about Republican candidates and elected officials start a dialogue with union members and businessmen about the common enemy of small business and labor- the encroaching regulatory state in Sacramento and Washington D.C., legitimized by the ecotopian whims of legislators like Nancy Pelosi and Kevin de Leon? How about we seek to forge a coalition of interested stakeholders committed to restoring America’s and California’s industrial might and productive capacities, pulling our economy out of its finance/services lull and putting it back on war footing? How about we kneecap the power of regulatory agencies and require them to repeal old rules every time they establish new ones? Why don’t we bring together all those interested in a strong productive core into the same tent, and send a message to the green “gentry” of the coasts that their de-growth and de-carbonizing schemes are unwelcome in a free country?
It’s a thought. As a candidate I’ll be experimenting with this, and it might blow up in my face. But it’s worth a shot. And in the year of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, anything is possible and worth trying.
About the Author: Senior Correspondent Luke Phillips is an International Relations major at the University of Southern California. His primary research interests include American foreign policy, geopolitics, grand strategy, political economy, and the Hamiltonian tradition in American politics. He maintains a personal blog on politics, religion and philosophy on www.abiasedperspective.wordpress.com and a weekly political newsletter at www.nationalconservativesblog.wordpress.com. He is a Campaign Assistant for the Duf Sundheim for Senate 2016 Campaign and a Research Associate at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.
Those favoring educational freedom – and their enemies – have been busy in May.
Overall, May has been a good month for the school choice movement despite a few lawsuits involving the teachers unions (so what else is new?). The Washington Education Association announced it would file suit by the end of the month challenging a new law in the Evergreen State that corrects problems in the way that charter schools are funded. WEA spouts the usual blather about how charter schools are not accountable, but of course the parents who send their kids to these schools of choice have a very different opinion.
Then there is the Sunshine State, where the Florida Education Association is suing over the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program. Launched in 2001, it allows low income families to send their kids to a private school with money that is funded directly through private donations from businesses, which can then earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state for their contributions. The union has a couple of legal problems, however. Thus far it hasn’t demonstrated to the court that it has standing – sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case. Additionally, the union has yet to articulate a specific harm that the program inflicts on public schools.
Now for the good news. In August 2015, the ACLU sued Nevada over its Education Savings Account law. Passed a couple of months earlier, the law covers tuition at approved private schools, as well as textbooks, tutoring services, tuition for distance learning programs, fees for special instruction if the child has a disability, et al. There are two tiers to the program: less affluent families get the statewide average basic support per-pupil, or around $5,700, while wealthier families receive $5,100. In support of the litigation, the Nevada State Education Association came up with “Ten Reasons Why Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts Are Bad News for Public Schools and Students” a document which includes the same old tired complaints we always hear from unions – public schools are underfunded, private schools have no accountability, choice leads to segregation, etc. But the lawsuit which claimed that public monies should not go to a religious institution, was denied by the judge who said, “parents – not state actors – decide whether they will use an education savings account, or ESA, to pay for tuition at private and religiously affiliated schools.” The ESAs are not home free yet, however, as there is a second lawsuit pending before the Nevada Supreme Court where the justices are expected to hear arguments in early June.
When it comes to public funds going to private schools, there has always been an arbitrary line drawn between k-12 and college. Pell Grants, which traditionally have been awarded to college students in need to use at the college of their choice – public, private, secular or religious – have been championed by the teachers unions. Yet the same unions rail against any similar vouchers on the elementary-high school level. But, in a very interesting move, Pell Grants can now be used by high schoolers as part of a dual enrollment program. Under the new plan announced just last week, thousands of low-income high-school students in nearly two dozen states, will, starting this summer, be able to get federal grants to take college courses for credit. And some of the 44 participating colleges are private. So with Pell Grants now stretching into high schools, it will be interesting to see if the teachers unions weigh in. Nothing from them yet. In any event, the slippery slope may have become just a bit slicker.
Two studies have come out this month which show the benefits of school choice while dispelling most of the banalities that the teachers unions and other anti-choicers regularly use. In “A Win-Win Solution – The Empirical Evidence on School Choice,” a meta-analysis (study of studies), Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice senior fellow Greg Forster found that choice improves academic outcomes not only for participants but also public school students. Summing up the study, Jay Greene writes that choice “saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy. A few outlier cases that do not fit this pattern may get a disproportionate amount of attention, but the research consensus in favor of school choice as a general policy is clear and consistent.”
A second meta-analysis led by University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf, using 19 gold standard studies of private school choice programs globally, found that private school choice increases the reading and math scores of choice users. Interestingly, achievement benefits of private school choice appear to be somewhat larger for programs in developing countries than for those in the U.S. Wolf explains, “Our meta-analysis avoided all three factors that have muddied the waters on the test-score effects of private school choice. It is a non-ideological scientific enterprise, as we followed strict meta-analytic principles such as including every experimental evaluation of choice produced to date, anywhere in the world.”
Facts, data and meta-studies are what honest researchers use. The unions, not using any objective methodology, rely purely on vapid talking points which they cannot back up. (Actually there was one recent study commissioned by the United Teachers of Los Angeles in which the union tries to prove that charter schools have cost the LA School district a half billion dollars. But the report, loaded with inaccuracies and distortions, ultimately proved that a study commissioned by a teachers union is about as valid as preposterous claims made by a 3am TV pitchman hawking wrinkle cream. More on the faux UTLA study soon.) Some National Education Association baseless assertions:
Fact: There’s no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement.
Fact: Vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.
Fact: Vouchers do not reduce public education costs.
Lie. Lie. Lie.
But no matter. The unions will not give up their ongoing efforts to deny parental choice. To paraphrase an old maxim, since they can’t bang on the facts, they try to bang on the law. And when that doesn’t work, the only thing they have left to bang on is the table.
No matter how many times it’s repeated, the national teacher shortage story is a canard.
In the months since I last wrote about the alleged teacher shortage crisis, I had hoped the hysteria would abate. But alas, it hasn’t; if anything, it has increased, with the teachers unions at the forefront of the bogus story.
Champion alarm bell-ringer Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in fine form when she penned “How the Teacher Shortage Could Turn Into a Crisis” for the Huffington Post last month. Her claims are all ridiculous, of course, but she states them with such certitude that they sound quite believable if one doesn’t know better. “…we lose an alarming number of teachers once they enter the profession— between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. Add to that the loss of mid- and late-career teachers, who have honed their skills but can’t see staying until retirement, and you’ve got a teacher brain-drain unseen in any other profession.” The National Education Association advises, “Want to reduce the teacher shortage? Treat teachers like professionals.” The California Teachers Association informs us that we are on the verge of “The Perfect Storm: California Impending Teacher Shortage Crisis.”
And it’s not only the unions that have been infected with the “sky is falling” mentality. In February, Education Week reported “Teacher Shortages Put Pressure on Governors, Legislators.” And a Hechinger Report piece recently warned that “California faces a dire teacher shortage. Should other states worry, too?” Surprisingly, however, the gloom actually lifts near the end of the Hechinger article and clarity ultimately prevails. Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research puts things into perspective by introducing data which show that between 1984 and 2013 teacher production has increased overall, with a few dips here and there. He calmly states, “This does not look to me like the production of teachers in this country is falling off a cliff.”
Another Hechinger piece posted last month continued the Goldhaber line. “Cries about national teacher shortages might be overblown” takes a look at various state reports. In 2013-2014 in California, 2.5 to 2.7 percent of the teachers hired had emergency certification, a sign of shortage, because schools hire applicants with full certifications first. But fifteen years ago, 14.5 percent of the teachers hired in California were not fully credentialed.
Then, just last week, the National Center for Teacher Quality claimed flatly in its newsletter that we are in the midst of a drummed up teacher shortage crisis. Acknowledging that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined, NCTQ president Kate Walsh points out that “the drop was preceded by a three-decade period of enrollment growth, far outpacing the demand year-in and year-out. America’s 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years.” She adds that, “The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn’t as large as in other years.”
Taking an even longer look, the late Cato Institute senior fellow of education policy Andrew Coulson wrote in 2015 that there is an “Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage.” He notes that since 1970, “…the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing teacher shortages?” (Emphasis added.)
Coulson finishes his piece, “So does America have a ‘teacher shortage’ writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is (because of) mistakes in policy and/or execution.”
Also, Weingarten’s assertion that “between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years” has always been, and still is, a crock. She and other union leaders have been telling that lie since the last millennium. Fortunately the debunking has been picking up. Just a year ago, EdSource’s John Fensterwald reported, “Half of new teachers quit profession in 5 years? Not true, new study says.” He writes that a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics found that “10 percent of new teachers in 2007-08 didn’t return the following year, increasing cumulatively to 12 percent in year three, 15 percent in year four and 17 percent in the fifth year. The totals include teachers who were let go and subsequently didn’t find a job teaching in another district.” Just last week, Bellwether Education Partners policy expert Chad Aldeman reported in Education Next, “Turnover rates for inexperienced teachers have been falling, not rising, while turnover has risen among more experienced teachers.”
So after five years one-in-six teachers are gone. Hardly a cause for smelling salts. In fact, other fields have a much higher turnover rate. In banking and finance, for example, the departure rate in 2013 was 17.2 percent and in healthcare it was 16.8 percent. The average for all industries in 2013 was 15.1 percent. So basically, in five years, the teaching profession loses roughly the same percentage of employees that other fields lose every year. So, comparatively speaking, we are hardly “bleeding teachers.”
While I have been looking at the big picture here, to be sure there are some school districts that are short on teachers and other districts may lack teachers in certain subject areas. But rather than promulgating doomsday prophecies, how about simply addressing those specific shortages – like paying science teachers a bit more money to lure them to districts where they are needed.
There is one area in decline that is worth noting, however: unionized teachers. Taking a look at the latest numbers available, courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we see that the National Education Association lost 42,000 active members in 2013, “bringing the union’s total losses among working public school employees to more than 310,000 (10.7%) over the past five years.” That’s certainly bad news for the union’s bottom line, but the rest of us aren’t going to be shedding any tears over that.
Despite what the teachers unions say, teachers – not to mention children and taxpayers – can and do thrive without them.
In 2011, under Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin passed Act 10, the Budget Repair Bill, which, among other things, placed strict limitations on the ability of teachers unions to collectively bargain.
Walker very quickly became the most reviled man – no mean feat – on the lengthy teachers union hit list. Popularity polls in union halls placed him somewhere between Jack-the-Ripper and Adolph Hitler. If you Google “Scott Walker idiot” you will get enough hits – from the unions, progressive media and fellow travelers – to keep you busy till the summer solstice.
But what has really been going on in the Badger State since Act 10 became law?
The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty decided to take a look. WILL wanted to see if the claims that Walker’s budget cuts would take a toll on students and school districts were true, and went to teachers, superintendents and school board members to find out. Its report specifically deals with three areas: merit pay for teachers, flexibility in hiring and firing, and collaboration between administrators and teachers.
Merit pay replaced the industrial style step-and-ladder method in which teachers were paid by years on the job and how many – frequently useless – “professional development classes” they took. Using a variety of student achievement metrics, successful teachers across the state were rewarded. Not all districts do it the exact same way, but all center on teacher effectiveness and not the ridiculous union mandated “objective” pay scale. The result has been a big savings for school districts, which they then pass on to their good teachers. What a concept!
Before Act 10, collective bargaining agreements made it very difficult for administrators to run their schools. For example, seniority dictated staffing decisions. As it did all over the country, the “last in, first out” policy led Teachers-of-the-Year to be let go before their less talented colleagues. But when unshackled by the union strait-jacket, districts and teachers can be more creative. As reported by WILL, “In 2011, Oconomowoc School District faced a budget shortfall of almost $500,000. In order to bridge this gap, the district reduced staff by cutting 15 teaching positions by qualification instead of seniority. In order to make up for the lost staff, the district offered the remaining teachers a $14,000 stipend to teach a fourth class. Such a drastic change would have been impossible before Act 10.” Other districts offered stipends to certain types of teachers that were in short supply in their districts.
Perhaps the most intrusive bit of union meddling prior to Act 10 came in the form of their self-appointed middleman role, inserting union reps between teachers and administrators. The unions were most fearful and vocal about this aspect of the law, claiming that Act 10 would lead school superintendents to “abuse their power and exploit teachers.” The doom-and-gloom predictions were epitomized by Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association, who flatly claimed, “We view the events in Wisconsin as one of the worst attacks on workers’ rights and their voices in the workplace that we’ve ever seen.”
But at least thus far, workers voices are coming through loud and clear. David Krier, a school board member in the Cedarburg School District, says: “Teachers are visibly more responsive to instruction from the administration without collective bargaining, probably because they are more accountable to their schools directly. They are now extremely motivated to improve themselves, their teaching methods, techniques, skills. Teacher responsiveness to instruction and feed-back has greatly improved.”
What about teachers who have disagreed with their union’s stance on certain issues?
As Michelle Uetz, a teacher at Prescott School District notes: “Previously, I did not feel that my individual concerns and needs were important to the union. If I had a concern about something the union didn’t care about, I felt they wouldn’t make my issue a priority and was concerned that it would get lost in the bureaucracy. Now that the path is open for teachers to directly contact administrators, and vice versa, there has been a dramatic increase in teacher input at my school. It is important to teachers that we feel heard, and since Act 10, my district more frequently asks for input regarding changes we would like to see in our contracts. It’s a more collaborative environment without union politics involved in each detail.”
Glenn Shilling, Superintendent of Lakeside-Hartland School District said that after Act 10 was enacted, the school board could discuss issues like wages, insurance, etc., directly with teachers without a designated bargaining group.
One other bonus included in the report: Wisconsin taxpayers have saved $5.24 billion as a result of Act 10.
The report ends with a caveat not to make “over generalizations” about its findings. The next step for WILL, which will be addressed in an upcoming study, is a “deeper economic analysis of the non-fiscal impact of Act 10 on school districts, teachers, and students.” But so far, the results are quite promising. Scott Walker’s law has helped teachers, kids, administrators and taxpayers prosper. The only losers are union honchos and their friends…who still insist that Walker is an idiot.
April revealed the teachers unions’ desperation over losing control of top-down, one-size fits all government-run schools.
In many ways April was normal for teacher union monopolists. Early in the month, the Washington Teachers Union said it would challenge a new law in the Evergreen State that corrected problems in the way that charter schools, which had been marked for extinction, are funded. The modified law would allow their scant eight operating charters to remain open. Obviously that is eight too many for WTU, which is suing over the use of state funding for the schools, as well as their “lack of public accountability.”
Then just last week, writer and former California State Senator Gloria Romero reported that two Orange County Board of Education trustees’ seats are in danger. Being pro-charter and pro-parent are apparently too much for the Santa Ana Educators Association. The California Teachers Association local set up an entity called “Teachers for Local Control,” obviously a union-front group, whose goal is to dump the reformers based on the premise that they are “intent on destroying local control, devastating public education and usurping and overturning the wisdom of locally elected trustees.”
In both cases, it’s union turf-protecting business-as-usual.
But then came the real whacked-out stuff. On April 13th, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote “A Coordinated National Effort to Decimate Public Schools” – an absolutely loopy piece – for Huffington Post. The factually challenged rant featured every lie imaginable about charter schools, and included a veritable Who’s Who of union bogeymen – Chris Christie, “hedge-fund billionaire” Dan Loeb, Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation, “Tea Party extremists,” et al. While Weingarten is certainly entitled to her opinion, she needed to be busted on her “facts” and two days later Margaret Raymond did just that in HuffPo. The director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University poked holes in just about every one of Weingarten’s claims. “In her blog, Weingarten states, ‘A well-regarded Stanford University study found that charter school students were doing only slightly better in reading than students in traditional public schools, but at the same time doing slightly worse in math.’ She refers to our 2013 study, ‘The National Charter School Study,’ but errs in both fact and interpretation.” You can read Raymond’s smackdown here.
But perhaps the most bizarre teacher union activity in April, again courtesy of AFT, took place last week in England, where according to the union’s press release, “The American Federation of Teachers, along with teachers unions and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world, will speak out during Pearson’s annual general meeting Friday, April 29, in London to call for a review of its business model that pushes high-stakes testing in the United States and privatized schools in the developing world.”
AFT has a long and complex relationship with Pearson. Twenty-seven of its affiliates have holdings in the global education company, including retirement systems in California, New York, Arkansas, Colorado, etc. The union thinks Pearson’s business model needs rejiggering and has decided to throw its weight around, stressing that the company should forsake its “test and punish policies.” Without getting into the anti-testing hysteria, it is downright bizarre to attack the company’s business model. They are in the business of making tests. What the heck does Weingarten expect them to do, stick a warning label on each test? “Overuse can lead to low self-esteem.” It’s akin to an obese person blaming their weight problem on Hostess for making and advertising Twinkies.
And then there is the non-existent horror of privatized schools in the developing world. Weingarten asserts, “Pearson needs to acknowledge the global right to free and accessible public education….” The union leader’s British counterpart, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (known as “NUT” – no, I am not making this up), said Pearson’s involvement “with low-cost private schools in the Global South is jeopardizing access to education for many children. Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society, not private profit. We hope that Pearson shareholders take on board the issues we are raising and support our resolution.”
So the union leaders want to advance their big government one-size-fits-all unionized education model and infect the rest of the world with what isn’t working well in the U.S. Perhaps the union leaders should read James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, an enchanting and inspiring account of the writer’s quest to discover “how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.” Can you imagine kids getting an education without government or union meddling?! (Think early 19th Century America when literacy rates were higher than they are now.) Tooley’s travels took him to the teeming slums of Hyderabad, India, as well as other poverty-stricken areas and found that children “in low-cost private schools in India, Nigeria and Ghana outperformed students in government schools by double-digit margins in almost every subject.” We’re talking about ramshackle schools with mud floors, adjacent to open sewers, where parents pay $1-$2 a month in tuition because they are so disillusioned with the (frequently unionized) government schools.
In any event, Pearson’s board considered the unions’ resolution but recommended that its shareholders vote against it. And indeed they did. Only 2.4 percent bought the bilge, and the union resolution was defeated by 578,510,587 votes to 14,016,634.
With April in the books, what do our union friends have planned for May? Well, tomorrow there will be a “national walk-in.” Sponsored by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a union front-group, the event is intended to solidify support for traditional education and minimize the “damage” done by charters and other forms of school choice. Thankfully for the impoverished in the Third World, the union only plans their purely self-serving activity for the U.S. Obviously it isn’t just the Brits who are NUTs.
The signatures for an initiative that would extend 2012’s “temporary” tax increase in California are due today.
Four years ago Californians voted in Prop. 30, a “temporary” tax, to pay back schools “from the years of devastating cuts.” But as I show here, there was hardly any devastation; in fact, our spending had continued to be quite robust. The measure jacked up income tax on people with incomes exceeding $250,000 through 2018 and increased sales tax on all of us through the end of this year. But, the Beholden State teachers unions are trying to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would continue the higher income tax through 2030. (The sales tax increase would expire as scheduled.) Earlier this month, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins told the union’s State Council that “…we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks.”
Today, in fact, is the deadline. If enough signatures are gathered, the extension has a good chance of success. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found, “…among all Californians, 64 percent support the extension, 32 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided. Among likely voters, 62 percent back it, 35 percent oppose it and 2 percent haven’t decided. By party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats support it while only 32 percent of Republicans do.”
When I read poll numbers like this, I always wonder if the people questioned know what we actually spend on education. My guess is that many don’t. A recent Education Next poll, which included a question about that issue, is instructive. The school districts in which their survey respondents resided spent an average of $12,440 per pupil in 2012 (the most recent data available). But when asked, the respondents estimated per-pupil expenditures in their local school district, they guessed, on average, just $6,307 – about half of what was actually spent. (By the way, these dollar amounts would be considerably higher if expenditures for transportation, capital expenses, and debt service were included.)
Should Prop. 30 (or any future such tax increases) make it on to the ballot, I would ask voters to consider the following:
- The unions will tell you that the tax is only on the wealthy, whom they claim don’t pay their fair share. But a look at the actual numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top one percent of income earners across the nation paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income. Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.”
- Courtesy of Cato Institute’s late, great Andrew Coulson, we see that between 1972 and 2012 California’s education spending (adjusted for inflation) has doubled, while our students’ SAT scores have actually declined.
- The latest study on the relationship between spending and achievement, recently conducted in Michigan, found no statistically significant correlation between how much money the state’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically. Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Ben DeGrow, who coauthored the study said, “Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best.” He added, “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”
- Unconditional money poured into public education from the private sector doesn’t help either. In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark public schools, which was matched by another $100 million from unnamed donors. As documented in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, a book about the gift, the money went up in smoke, with the teachers union playing a big role in vaporizing it. As reported by the New York Times, Newark Teachers Union leader Joe Del Grosso “demanded a ransom of $31 million to compensate for what he felt members should have received in previous years — before agreeing to discuss any labor reforms.” The new labor contract accounted for almost half the $200 million. In a review of the book, Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wrote, “The union boss… made the back pay a condition for even holding the negotiations. ‘We had an opportunity to get Zuckerberg’s money,’ Del Grosso later explained, ‘Otherwise, it would go to the charter schools. I decided I shouldn’t feed and clothe the enemy.’” But it wasn’t only the unions that abused the gift. As Bedrick says, “The Prize demonstrates in depressing detail just how difficult it is to reform public schooling in the United States. Laws, regulations, and labor contracts favored adult jobs over kids’ education and this entrenched bureaucracy was difficult to change—especially because reforms met opposition from special interests and their political allies.”
With a debt of over $1 trillion and counting, California clearly has a spending problem, not a too-little-tax problem. The taxpayers must take action. First, we all need to know specifically where our edu-bucks are being spent. You can start at the Ed-Data website for general expenditures. Do some digging to find out how teacher union (and all public employee union) pensions are bankrupting cities across the state. For that kind of information, Pension Tsunami is an invaluable resource. Perhaps most importantly, communicate with legislators and demand school choice. Among other things – just as in business – competition lowers prices while increasing product quality. And God knows we would benefit from both.
Randi Weingarten and other union leaders have a prized talking point: “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” It’s a ridiculous claim, which I debunked last week. And at the same time, they erroneously believe we can spend our way to success. But they make no real case for this, because there isn’t one. It’s time for all of us to stop falling for the feel-good fairy tales. Just saying “No!” to the Prop. 30 extension – should it get to the ballot – would be a great place to start.
California’s minimum wage is set to rise to $15/hour over the next six years. While this topic has been beat to death, it is seldom pointed out that the inflation-adjusted minimum wage, based on 78 years of precedent, at most should only be around $10 per hour. A recent UnionWatch post “Raise the Minimum Wage, or Lower the Cost of Living?,” proved this using CPI data. As can be seen, only once, in 1968, did the minimum wage in 2015 dollars exceed $10/hour.
Historical Minimum Wages
Expressed in 2015 Dollars
A lot of things have happened since 1968, of course. To name just two, the earned income tax credit didn’t arrive until 1975, and the Affordable Care Act, offering health insurance to low-income participants at give-away rates, didn’t arrive until 2010. Needless to say these programs make it easier to survive on minimum wage.
The point of this isn’t to suggest workers shouldn’t earn more money, or to argue about whether or not we should have a minimum wage. The point is that the minimum wage, at $15/hour, has no historical justification. And because of this, the unintended consequences are more severe. Like never before, this minimum wage increase will kill small businesses and it will kill entry level jobs.
There’s another point missing from the debate over the minimum wage. It is an indictment of the members of California’s state legislature, because collectively, they have a simplistic, ideologically driven view of economics that is divorced from reality. Their naive enthusiasm is harming the working families they claim they want to protect. California’s legislators, nearly all of them coerced and controlled by government unions and seduced by extreme environmentalists, have enacted policies that deny upward mobility to working people.
These policies only begin with an excessive minimum wage hike that is going to reward large corporate franchises and drive small emerging companies out of business. They extend to the unaffordable cost of housing, caused by misguided “urban containment” policies in what is one of the most spacious developed regions on earth. They extend to the high cost of electricity and natural gas, elevated by policies inspired by a futile wish to set an example to the rest of the world – regardless of their regressive impact. They extend to a pension system built by an alliance of government unions and powerful financial interests that guarantees retirement benefits to government employees that are literally five to ten times more generous than Social Security, paid for by taxpayers, teetering on the abyss of insolvency. The list goes on.
Here’s part of the reason why: California’s legislators do not have experience running a business. Most of them have never worked in the private sector. A 2014 UnionWatch post “How Labor Money Undermines the Financial Literacy of California’s Legislators,” documents, based on biographical analysis, the level of business experience in California’s 2014 state legislature. In all, 56% of them have NO experience in business – having spent their entire careers in government or nonprofits. Of the majority democrats, 76% of them have NO experience in business. The 2016 class of legislators is unlikely to be any different.
California State Legislature, 2013-2014 Membership
Business vs. Government Background
Understanding that you can’t raise the minimum wage without killing entry level jobs is a basic economic concept. So is the fact that if you make it nearly impossible to develop land or energy, prices will rise for those commodities. And it isn’t much of a leap to realize that when you do this, you are hurting the most vulnerable members of society.
More sinister, and perhaps harder to grasp, upper division stuff, is the fact that every time you add a regulation, you further empower the monopolistic corporate special interests who are supposedly the bad guys you’re fighting. Every time you lower interest rates to stimulate spending, you invite people of limited means to go further into debt, and you decimate the savings accounts of people unwilling or unable to gamble their modest fortunes in a volatile stock market. And every time you raise pay and pension benefits for government workers, you create deficits, pouring additional billions into the pockets of bond underwriters, and you redirect the money into the hands of the pension funds and their investment bankers.
And at the graduate level, in that rarefied space where sound-bites (that perform so well in Sacramento) just echo meaninglessly in the vast alpine air, consider this: The impact of artificially elevating the cost of living creates an asset economy, so pension funds and rich people alike can ride the bubble for one more year, while ordinary folks endure servitude to their $700,000 mortgages. It doesn’t take an economist, however, to know this can’t last. It just takes horse sense. That too, appears to be in short supply in Sacramento.
Could it be that if California’s legislature were committed to lowering the cost-of-living via policies that encouraged competitive development of natural resources including land and energy, maybe they wouldn’t have to bestow such lavish benefits on government workers, nor the crumbs of minimum wage increases to private workers?
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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.
A hospital association just pumped $12.5 million into an effort to extend a tax on top earners — a tax that’s provided billions of dollars in education funding since 2012.
In fact, the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems quadrupled its investment from four years ago when Prop. 30 passed. So why do hospitals care so much about education funding?
Because there’s billions of dollars per year in health care funding at stake.
Health care funding
Since Prop. 30 passed — during an economic downturn when the state was confronted with sharp budget cuts — it has largely funded education with some money bolstering the general fund, which includes some health care programs.
But the 12-year extension vying for a spot on the November ballot — two years prior to the expiration date — would add up to $2 billion in funding per year for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. The contributions to Medi-Cal would come once other funding requirements have been met (the Prop. 2 rainy-day fund requirement and the Prop. 98 minimum education funding requirement).
Prop. 30 imposed a “temporary,” seven-year personal income tax increase on earnings of more than $250,000, and a quarter cent sales tax increase for four years.
Some of the revenue went to help balance the state budget, but most went to education funding — 89 percent to K-12 and 11 percent to community colleges.
The proposed extension allows the quarter cent sales tax to expire, but extends the income tax increase until 2030, securing funding far enough into the future “to provide long-term stability for our schools,” said Jennifer Wonnacott, spokeswoman for the “Yes” campaign.
“We still need this investment,” said Wonnacott. “This is about asking those who can afford to pay a little bit more to keep doing so for a little while longer.”
With the heavy early investment from the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems — which only spent $2 million to help Prop. 30 pass in 2012 — this is shaping up to be one of the costliest battles this cycle.
Prop. 30 was a $135 million issue, one largely supported by the California Teachers Association ($11.4 million), Service Employees International Union ($10.7 million), Democratic State Central Committee of California ($5 million) and the American Federation of Teachers ($4.1 million).
In total, proponents spent $65.6 million to pass the measure. It has generated $13.1 billion in education funding since its passage, according to the state controller’s office.
The extension measure is again supported by the California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union, which — along with the hospitals — forms a formidable alliance. The California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union has already given $1.2 million on the effort.
While it won’t take a formal position unless the measure qualifies for the ballot, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association will make this a top target if it does qualify — the measure has reached the 25 percent mark for required signatures as of Sunday.
Many political donors will also fight this measure. In 2012, Charles Munger Jr. contributed $35 million to the “No on 30” campaign in opposition to Prop. 30, according to Ballotpedia.
Instead of waiting until the next cycle when the Prop. 30 income tax provision expires, proponents are banking on a favorable turnout, as Democrats vote in larger percentages in presidential cycles than they do in midterms.
There had been competing Prop 30 extension proposals, but the efforts consolidated around this measure, said Wonnacott.
About the Author: Matt Fleming is a writer for CalWatchdog, an independent Sacramento-based journalism venture providing original investigative reports and news stories covering California state government. The site is focused on reporting on the state Capitol, state agencies and on significant government-related stories from across California that are of statewide importance.
The late songwriter Jim Croce listed a number of imprudent actions in his “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” Along with staying out of Jim’s way, he included the admonition not to tug on Superman’s cape or spit into the wind. Croce might have added to his list the foolishness of taking on Proposition 13.
Promoters of an initiative to impose a $6 billion annual surcharge on both business and residential, property, for the stated purposed of fighting poverty, have abandoned the effort. A measure sponsored by former Board of Equalization member Conway Collis and funded largely by an order of the Catholic Church, the Daughters of Charity, will not appear on the November ballot, as was expected.
It is unclear to Prop 13 defenders why the effort was halted. Some suggested that the governor intervened, convincing backers that too many measures on the ballot would risk rejection of propositions he favored. Others suggest the all-powerful teachers union threatened to oppose the measure because Collis failed to include a payout to education. But it cannot be overlooked that initiative backers may have become discouraged because Proposition 13 remains extremely popular with the general public and voters are very wary of any effort – no matter how benevolent it may sound – to undermine Prop 13’s protections. Californians like the safeguards it provides by limiting annual property tax increases, allowing local voters to decide tax issues and requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase state taxes, a threshold that has not proven to be insurmountable.
Still, dismantling Proposition 13 will continue as a major industry in political circles. The special interests looking to pry more money from taxpayers, whose burden already ranks the sixth highest in all 50 states, will say and do almost anything to disable or eliminate Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections.
To undermine support for the tax limiting measure, tax raisers try to persuade voters that Proposition 13 is unfair. The “evil rich” and businesses do not deserve these protections, they say. Or, as is the case with the Collis initiative, they appeal to voters’ compassion by pointing to a sympathetic population like “widows and orphans” that will benefit from the proceeds of breaking down Proposition 13.
These special interests, including the unions representing government employees — that the Department of Labor says are the highest paid in all 50 states — will continue to use misinformation and disinformation to try to convince voters to turn their wallets inside out because they know if they are candid about their goal to raise taxes, their efforts will be as productive as tugging on Superman’s cape.
Taxpayers will need to remain vigilant because as long as the tax raisers believe there is the possibility they can put their hands on more taxpayer money, their deceptive efforts to destroy Proposition 13 are certain to continue.
About the Author: Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.
The unfortunate and untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has Big Labor bosses and their liberal political allies cheering. Scalia would have been the decisive vote in a major Supreme Court decision affecting labor unions scheduled for this June (see Why Antonin Scalia was a jurist of colossal consequence). Justice Scalia’s influence would have impacted government union bosses, as he most likely would have voted in favor of union members in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involves a California teacher who claims her First Amendment rights have been violated by having to pay union dues, even though she isn’t a member of the union. This matter was further chronicled in a previous blog, Will the Supreme Court undo the damage done to the rights of millions of government workers?
Such a defeat could have been a death spiral for Public Sector Unions. Without a replacement for Scalia, the vote could end up in a tie, considering the Supreme Court is now divided evenly — four liberal justices and four conservative justices. In the event of a tie, the decision of the lower court continues to stand. In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the labor unions.
Despite the fact President Obama will push for a quick replacement for Scalia, likely a liberal candidate, which would tilt the Supreme Court to the left, and unions don’t technically even need this appointment, as they are currently in position to Win by Default. This could also be a setback to Christian businesses in America. Without Scalia’s vote, cases involving Religious Beliefs and Christian Values may swing against such businesses due to a likely liberal selection by the President.
Big Labor’s cheering will be somewhat dampened by the news that West Virginia just voted to become the 26th Right-To-Work (RTW) State, effective July 1, 2016. West Virginia makes the fourth state to pass RTW legislation in the last 4 years –along with Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. It is obvious that the country is moving in a new direction and that there is actually a movement for National RTW Legislation. This recent development, combined with the fact that Democrats may lose the 2016 Presidential Election and continue to be the congressional minority, has the big labor bosses concerned. Undoubtedly, they will be a Major Presence in the 2016 Elections, as they may possibly face extinction if they lose this Election.
I often experience flashbacks of the SEIU attacks made against my company when watching Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama speak. They are using the same misguided promises, false information, lies, rhetoric and intimidation tactics the SEIU utilized when attempting to force unionize my employees. It is imperative that a Supreme Court decision is not made in favor of big labor as a result of Scalia’s death.
There is no doubt Scalia’s Death Throws a Wrench in the Bench. However, it is time for Americans from both sides of the aisle to band together, absent political persuasion, to assure that Scalia’s replacement will be one that does not represent progressive ideology, but rather someone who Defends the Constitution of the United States of America and the future of this great country — as Antonin Scalia notably did for so many years.
About the Author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” as well as the just released sequel, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.
Sarah has worked for a major grocery store chain for the past 25 years. Adjusting for inflation, she makes less now than she did over a decade ago, especially since her hours were cut in order for her employer to avoid being required to offer her health insurance. Even more difficult, she is “on call” most of the week, without a reliable schedule, which makes it impossible for her to take on a 2nd part time job to help make ends meet. Including benefits, Sarah is lucky to make $30,000 per year. Now in her early fifties, she will need to work for as long as there is strength left in her body to do the job.
George works for a fire department serving an affluent suburb on the California coast. Taking into account the vacation time he earns as a 25 year veteran, he works less than two 24 hour shifts per week before qualifying for overtime. Since five day weekends are overkill, he often works one or two extra shifts a week, doubling his pay. When he goes on calls, 98% of the time they are medical emergencies, not fires. Including moderate amounts of overtime and the employer’s payments for his benefits, George makes about $250,000 per year. Now in his early fifties, he will retire in a year or two and collect a pension and health benefits package worth well over $100,000 per year.
Both of these individuals are hard working, honest and conscientious. Both of them perform jobs that have a vital role to play in our society. Both of them deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Neither of them wrote the rules. And both of them are represented by unions.
While these individuals and the work they do is beyond reproach, the unions that represent them leave much to be desired. In Sarah’s case, typical of tens of millions of private sector workers, the unions who represent her have ignored economic reality in pursuit of ideological fantasies. Almost universally, to cite a particularly wounding example, these private sector unions have supported immigration policies that increase the supply of semi-skilled workers who compete with Sarah for work hours. Also common are the pragmatic alliances these unions form with extreme environmentalist organizations who have bottled up development of land and energy, driving the cost of living beyond the reach of an ordinary worker. One may cogitate endlessly over what constitutes optimal and humane policies with respect to immigration and the environment. But to agitate for higher wages and benefits in a society awash in cheap labor and artificially inflated costs for basic necessities is a fool’s errand.
In George’s case, which is equally typical, at least in California, the unions that represent him should not even be permitted to exist. Associations of government workers who engage in collective bargaining are not unions in any traditional sense of the word. They elect their own bosses, they take money from taxpayers instead of competing for consumer spending, and they operate the machinery of government which lets them intimidate or co-opt any special interest that might oppose them. They have priced normal government services beyond the capacity of ordinary taxpayers, and bred cynicism about government into the heart of any financially literate American. And government unions have even less interest than private unions in acknowledging the complexity of issues such as immigration or environmentalist overreach. In both cases, policies that harm the aspirations of private workers have the opposite effect on them, enhancing their job security.
A legitimate labor movement is easy to justify in the abstract. If not unions, what sort of movement will speak for ordinary workers in an era when jobs are being relentlessly automated, global competition is tougher than ever, and the cost of living is punitive? What sort of movement can speak for ordinary workers if, along with these challenges, the nation is gripped by a deep recession brought on because interest rates can’t go any lower and stimulative debt can’t go any higher?
The reality today is that much of America’s labor movement has gone astray. Private sector unions often put ideological goals ahead of the economic interests of their members. And public sector unions, which are not unions in any traditional sense of the word, and which represent the economic interests of their members all too well, are an abomination. They have corrupted our democracy, they are a corrupting influence on government workers because they have exempted them from the economic challenges facing private American workers, they are driving our governments at all levels towards authoritarianism, they are bankrupting our cities and counties and states, and the pension funds they control epitomize the most corrupt elements of America’s grotesquely overbuilt financial sector. Maybe what would remain after abolition, still very powerful voluntary associations, could start fighting for CEQA reform, for example, to benefit all workers instead of just themselves. Before unions infested our governments, that’s what public service meant.
Envisioning exactly how the labor movement might best operate in the interests of the American worker is difficult but necessary. It requires balancing libertarian and mixed-capitalist economic world views. But two reforms would be a very good start. First, outlaw collective bargaining in the public sector. Second, the leaders of the private sector labor movement need to starting caring more about American workers, and less about their elitist ideological fantasies.
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“It’s [private equity investments] generating real returns for our members, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said Joe DeAnda, a CalPERS spokesman. “It’s real value that we don’t feel there’s another way to achieve.”
– “Are private equity investments worth the risk?,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2015
The alliance between government unions and America’s overbuilt financial sector is one of the most unreported stories of our time. It is a story saturated in greed, drowning in delusion, smothered and marginalized by an avalanche of taxpayer funded propaganda. If this story were known and appreciated by the people most victimized by its effects, it would fundamentally shift the political landscape of the nation. The most obvious example of this alliance are the government worker pension systems, Wall Street’s biggest players, controlled by union operatives.
The problem with public sector defined benefit pensions can be boiled down to two cold facts: They are too generous, and they rely on rate-of-return assumptions that are too optimistic. The first is the result of greed, the second of delusion. To indulge these vices requires corruption, and it is a rot that joins public sector unions with the most questionable elements of that Wall Street machine they so readily demonize.
In an attempt to earn in excess of 7.0% per year, government pension systems have increasingly turned to hedge funds, whose charter, essentially, is to earn over-market returns. To do this, they do all the things that public sector unions are supposedly opposed to – opaque private equity deals, currency speculation, high-frequency trading – all those manipulative tools used by the super-wealthy, super empowered Wall Street players to siphon billions out of the economy. Except now they’re using tax dollars, channeled to them via government pension systems. And if it goes south? Taxpayers pay for the bailout.
Which brings us to sheer abuse of power. Hypocrisy aside – and how much more hypocritical can it be for union leaders to rhetorically demonize “profits,” yet ignore the fact that only profits can permit pension funds to appreciate at rates of 7.0% per year or more – it is raw power, sheer financial and legal might, that enables pension systems, with unions cheering them on every step of the way, to sue city after faltering city to ensure their “contracts” are inviolable, that relentlessly escalating pension contributions keep pouring in, even if it means raising taxes via court order, then selling the parks, selling the libraries, closing government offices and “furloughing” public servants, and giving raw deals to their new hires.
The alliance between Wall Street and public sector unions isn’t restricted to the over $4.0 trillion in government pension assets that they’ve wagered in a volatile investment market with taxpayers on the hook to guarantee perpetual winnings. The alliance extends to bond underwriters, who join with government unions to sell overpriced, often unnecessary projects to taxpayers, collecting billions in fees. It even extends to auctions of government permits to emit CO2, which when fully implemented will guarantee Wall Street firms a cut on virtually every energy transaction in America, while quietly pouring a huge portion of the proceeds into funding public sector jobs – redefined to meet “mitigation” criteria: code inspectors enforcing energy retrofits, entire cities who zone ultra-high density which presumably lowers transportation related emissions, bus drivers and other mass transit workers, police and fire agencies who confront higher crime rates and more wildfires during hot weather. And, of course, the bullet train.
Whether it’s financially unsustainable government pension systems, who are the biggest players on Wall Street, or financing overpriced public construction projects of dubious value, or imposing billions in hidden taxes on energy users to supposedly save the planet, public sector unions receive formidable political, legal and financial support from their partners in the financial sector, corrupt, crony capitalists who indeed give capitalism a bad name.
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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center.
When considering the labor movement in the United States, there is a huge distinction between government unions and private sector unions. Government unions elect their own bosses, they operate within agencies that collect taxes instead of having to make a profit by enticing consumers to buy their products, and they operate the machinery of government which means their more zealous members have the ability to intimidate their political opponents. Private sector unions have none of these advantages. They negotiate with managers hired by CEOs who report to shareholders. They negotiate with companies that will go out of business if they over-compensate their workers. And with rare exceptions, workers in private companies are not approving our business permit applications, inspecting our workplaces, or auditing our tax returns.
So where does this put construction unions who compete for government contracts?
This question matters a lot to reformers, because private sector unions, properly regulated, not only have a vital role to play in American society, but their members have the potential to lobby effectively against many of the special interests who are killing American jobs. Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to political collaboration between construction unions and groups representing business interests is the use of Project Labor Agreements.
The majestic Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, opened in 2010, seen from Hoover Dam.
Far too few necessary civil engineering projects are completed nowadays.
Like many political issues, the details of project labor agreements aren’t generally known to the average voter. Here is the Wikipedia definition (condensed) of a project labor agreement:
“A Project Labor Agreement is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project. Before any workers are hired on the project, construction unions have bargaining rights to determine the wage rates and benefits of all employees working on the particular project and to agree to the provisions of the agreement. The terms of the agreement apply to all contractors and subcontractors who successfully bid on the project, and supersedes any existing collective bargaining agreements. PLAs typically require that employees hired for the project are referred through union hiring halls, that nonunion workers pay union dues for the length of the project, and that the contractor follow union rules on pensions, work conditions and dispute resolution.”
Unions tout the benefits of project labor agreements as guaranteeing greater quality workmanship from a better trained workforce, along with guaranteeing more jobs for local workers. But they produce no evidence to support either of these claims.
Here are the main objections typically raised to PLAs by representatives of non-union construction firms:
1 – They force construction firms to hire people who aren’t their own employees to operate their equipment.
2 – Even if the union permits them to use their own employees to do the work, they have to pay into the union’s retirement fund, even though they are already paying into their own employees’ retirement fund.
3 – If a non-union construction firm works on a project under a PLA, making contributions to the union’s retirement pension fund, and that pension fund goes broke and requires additional funding, to the extent they paid into that fund, the non-union construction firm must also pay a share of the amount required to bailout the fund.
Because PLAs discourage non-union construction companies from bidding for jobs, the lack of competition inevitably raises the price of the construction. But the reason unions try to lock out non-union companies from competing for public works projects isn’t because the non-union firms pay their workers less. Prevailing wage agreements – which can be completely independent of PLAs – prevent that. The reason unionized firms drive costs up in projects is because of their work rules, which prohibit skilled workers from doing anything that is outside of their skill set, even if it is far more convenient for them to do so.
To make this clear, take a look at this list of the various construction trades. This is a partial list. It isn’t unusual for a construction project to require workers from over twenty different unions, each of which is negotiating for the maximum amount of work for their members.
The added cost of PLAs to taxpayers is not merely from less competition for jobs and inefficient union work rules. Often in order to force local agencies to accept PLAs, unions file lawsuits based on alleged violations of CEQA or other environmental laws. This so-called “greenmail” delays projects and incurs legal fees. Construction unions ought to be fighting environmentalist restrictions on construction, to help all workers and help the economy, instead of using them as a negotiating weapon.
The problems with PLAs are well known to many policymakers, but while construction unions can’t elect their company’s management team, they can definitely fund campaigns to elect politicians who will vote for PLAs, and they do. Kevin Dayton, a frequent contributor to UnionWatch, has written several reports on how construction unions pressure local elected officials to approve PLAs.
It’s unclear how construction unions might be willing to compromise on PLAs and consent to open competition for public works projects. But if they did, the prospects for cooperation are tantalizing. Because as it is, California’s investment in civil infrastructure is behind both in terms of maintenance and in terms of potentially spectacular upgrades. If construction unions were to join with business and community activists to oppose the extreme environmentalist forces that make infrastructure development cost-prohibitive, it could create more construction jobs than they’d ever dreamed of, building amenities that would lower the cost of living and improve the quality of life for everyone.
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Project Labor Agreement, Wikipedia
What is a Project Labor Agreement and how does it affect workers?, National Right to Work
Get the Truth, The Truth About PLAs
Project Labor Agreement Basics, The Truth About PLAs
Say NO to Project Labor Agreement Mandates, Associated Builders and Contractors
California students are not learning and teacher union leaders blame tests.
Every two years selected students across the nation take the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a test known as the nation’s report card. This year our kids didn’t do well. Actually they never do well, but this year the scores were even worse than two years ago. Just 36 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading, and 33 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
Some blame the new Common Core curriculum for the downturn – and there may be something to this – but even if you add a few sympathy points to the scores, they still stink. And when national news stories started rolling out about our poorly educated students, like night follows day, teacher union honchos put on their Sunday-best spin outfits and trotted out damage control sound bites. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten stated “slipping NAEP scores are evidence that the nation’s focus on using standardized tests to judge teachers and schools has failed….”
Sure. Let’s see – teachers teach kids. Kids do poorly on tests that are based on what teachers teach. And that’s proof that teachers shouldn’t be judged by how poorly their kids do on tests that measure what they are teaching. Okaaaaaayyyy.
National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, also playing defense offered, “The recent release of the NAEP scores once again demonstrates what educators have said all along. The effectiveness of a system cannot be judged by a single test score.” (Trust me, if the scores were good, there’d be none of this “single test score” blather.)
Here in California, our NAEP scores are in the toilet. Average fourth-grade math scores place the state at the bottom of the nation, just one point on above New Mexico, Alabama and Washington, D.C. In fourth-grade reading, only New Mexico and Washington, D.C. fared worse than the Golden State.
For those who think a “single test score” is meaningless, let’s look at another metric. The Early Assessment Program is a collaborative effort of the State Board of Education, California Department of Education and California State University, and measures readiness in college-level English and math for all high school juniors. The 2014 assessment showed that one-half of all students in the state did not demonstrate college readiness in math. In English, more than six out of ten didn’t. And of course some districts don’t live up to the average. In Los Angeles, 70 percent of the juniors are not college ready in English and 64 percent are not ready in math. In Fresno, it’s even worse: more than three out of four do not demonstrate readiness in reading and two out of three in math. (While the tests are given in grade 11, not many appreciably improve in grade 12.)
Last week – one week after the NAEP scores were released – the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report which reveals that 42 states and the District of Columbia require student growth and achievement be a consideration in teacher evaluations. (Just six years ago only 15 states did so.) Regrettably, California is one of the eight that does not, despite the fact that it has been the law (the Stull Act) to do so since 1971. In 1999, the state legislature amended the ghost law, requiring that the governing board of each school district “shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to: the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.” In other words, a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests. But school districts still turned a blind eye to the law.
Then in 2012, per a suit brought by Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice, a judge ordered the inclusion of test scores to be part of a teacher’s evaluation. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring that court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. (Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the 13 districts not following the law.) And until districts start to live up to the law, California will continue to flail away, having no objective method of measuring teacher effectiveness and therefore no accountability.
Pointing to the importance of evaluating teachers on student performance, Sandi Jacobs, NCTQ Senior Vice-President of state and district policy, put it very succinctly. “The bottom line of teaching is whether or not students are learning. If you stand up in front of a classroom every day and deliver great lesson after great lesson but no one in the class is gaining anything, then something is off.”
AFT’s Weingarten, pulling the misdirect string, retorted, “Rather than test-and-punish systems, we need teacher evaluations that will help support and improve teaching and learning.” Of course teachers need support, and it’s important to note that no state relies solely on student test scores, but rather uses test results along with a variety of other metrics to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.
So as most of the country moves on, California wallows in low test scores and unaccountable teachers. And then there is Fresno, the city in the Central Valley where a great majority of kids are way behind in reading and math. The Fresno Teachers Association has refused a 7 percent salary increase and is threatening to strike. This past Friday, the union issued a statement suggesting that the school districts refusal to continue negotiations “indicates students and educators in this district are not the priority.”
I am speechless.
California’s largest state/local government employee pension system, CalPERS, has posted a page on their website called “Myths vs. Facts.” Included among their many rather debatable “facts” is the following assertion, “Pension costs represent about 3.4 percent of total state spending.”
This depends, of course, on what year you’re considering, and what you consider to be direct cost overhead for the state as opposed to pass-throughs from the state to cities and counties. But CalPERS overlooks the fact that most of California’s government workers who collect pensions do not work for the state, they work for cities and counties and school districts. As can be seen on the “view CalPERS employers” page on Transparent California, there are 3,329 distinct employer retirement pension plans administered by CalPERS, and the vast majority of these are not state agencies paid from the state budget, but local agencies.
In a study earlier this year, “California City Pension Burdens,” the California Policy Center calculated 2015 employer pension contributions as a percent of total revenue for California’s cities to be 6.85%, more than double the amount CalPERS implies is the average pension burden. But this hardly tells the whole story, because CalPERS is systematically increasing the amounts that their clients will have to contribute as a percent of payroll, and hence, as a percent of total revenue.
UnionWatch has obtained budget documents from Costa Mesa showing how the pension contributions as a percent of payroll will grow between their 2014/15 fiscal year and 2020/21. Over the next six years, as the chart below shows, Costa Mesa’s total payroll is projected to grow from $50.1 million to $54.6 million. Their pension contribution, on the other hand, will grow from $23.2 million to $33.0 million. That is, their pension contribution as a percent of total payroll will increase from 46.3% of payroll today, to 60.4% of payroll in 2020.
Costa Mesa’s pension burden as a percent of payroll is a bit higher than average, but not much. And in terms of the percentage increases to pension contributions announced by CalPERS, they are typical. California’s cities, based on CalPERS announced pension increases, can expect to add another 15% of payroll to whatever amount they are already sending to CalPERS each year.
For every dollar they pay their employees in salary, should California’s cities be sending, year after year, $.50 cents or more to CalPERS? That’s the best case. It assumes that CalPERS will continue to be able to realize annual returns on investment of 7.5%, on average over the next several decades. It also assumes they’ve got the demographic projections correct this time, and won’t have to contend with the otherwise happy eventuality of people living longer than their current projection of approximately 80 years. These are big assumptions.
And how much of this fifty cents (or more) on the dollar do the employees themselves pay as a percent of withholding? In many cases, up until recently, they paid nothing. Or if they did pay via withholding, at the same time as they became subject to that requirement, they received a raise to their overall salary of an equivalent amount. But under California’s 2012 Public Employee Pension Reform Act, employees will gradually be required to pay more for their pensions – with a ceiling of 8% for regular employees, and 12% for public safety employees.
If they paid the maximum via withholding, for a miscellaneous employee in Costa Mesa, that 8% equates to a 4-to-1 employer match today, rising to a 5-to-1 matching in 2020. Similar employer matching ratios will apply for public safety employees. How many companies, anywhere, provide 1-to-1 matching, much less 2-to-1, or more? 5-to-1 matching? It is unheard of. For good reason – it is absolutely impossible for a private company to afford this in a competitive economy.
Returning to the Myths vs. Facts page posted by CalPERS, they also assert that “The average CalPERS pension is about $31,500 per year.” This is profoundly misleading. It is based on the assumption that every CalPERS retiree worked a full career in government. Returning to the CalPERS Employers page on Transparent California, one can see a more accurate estimate of the “average pension,” because it is limited to the average for retirees who put in at least 30 years of work. Take a look. For Costa Mesa, the average 2014 pension for a full career retiree was $91,805.
If our cities could afford this, nobody would care, but they cannot. If Social Security, which withholds benefits until a participant, typically, has worked 45 years, could afford to be equally generous, nobody would care. But the average Social Security benefit is around $15,000 per year and even at that pittance, without major restructuring it will go broke.
One can debate forever regarding how much of a premium public employees should receive over private sector workers because they’re, on average, more educated, or take more risks in their jobs. But as it is, taxes are going up to pay pensions and benefits to government workers that are by any objective standard many times greater than what private citizens can ever hope to achieve. No premium, however much deserved on principle, should be this big.
The insatiable demand by CalPERS and other government pension systems for more money to keep these pensions intact does more than create financial stress to our cities and counties. It exempts public employees from the economic challenges that face everyone else. It takes away the sense of shared fate between private citizens and public servants. It undermines the social contract. It exposes a self-dealing, hidden agenda behind all new regulations. It erodes the credibility of laws, ordinances, codes, because perhaps they are merely there to generate revenue.
CalPERS and California’s other government pension systems have the financial wherewithal to lobby and run PR campaigns that dwarf that of reformers. But myths and facts are not defined in press releases. They are defined by reality. The reality is that California’s pension funds have increased their required contributions as a percent of municipal budgets by an order of magnitude in just the last 15-20 years, and there is no end in sight. If and when they can no longer seize public assets to force payment, bully compliant judges to overturn reforms, or find enough money from new taxes to save their financially shattered systems, they are going to have a lot of explaining to do – not only to the beleaguered taxpayers, but to their own members.
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As readers know by now, Dropout Nation determined in research released last October that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers spend roughly $700 million per year on advocacy. This report undermined the unions’ preferred narrative that they are scrappy underdogs fighting for public schools. As you would expect, especially on Twitter, NEA’s and AFT’s highly-paid spokespeople were none too happy about this inconvenient fact. One such executive, AFT’s Kombiz Lavasany, asserted that the report was “sadly dishonest [because the] vast majority of union dues support things universally supported,” such as “work to represent and work for better pay, work conditions, professionalism.”
Since these claims were repeated and rebroadcast by other union officials and their allies, they deserve a brief fact-based review. Unfortunately, they fail to hold up under even light quantitative scrutiny.
Yes, the teachers’ unions’ really spend $2.2 billion per year overall: Some critics looked at the revenues of the main unions’ national operations, and saw budgets in the hundreds of millions (not billions). NEA, for example, only reported revenue of $385 million to the U.S. Department of Labor; since the NEA represents two thirds of the nation’s teachers, looking only at national IRS filings would imply a revenue total of less than $600 million.
This math, however, excludes most of the unions’ budgets, which formally stay at the level of states and localities. A teacher in Chicago, for instance, pays dues averaging $1,000 per year, but 60 percent of those dues go to the local Chicago Teachers Union. The remaining 40 percent is split between the national AFT and the statewide Illinois Federation of Teachers. These local dues to CTU give it a formally independent budget of roughly $30 million. New York is another example; the UFT spends $100 million per year.
Any national analysis of union financial clout must therefore consider the dues collected by state and local affiliates and the filings they make with the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. Altogether, this adds up to $2.2 billion.
This number seems shockingly high. But you must look at this in context. The $2.2 billion number implies that the national unions represent about 30 percent of the total unions’ revenues. This makes sense given that the national unions play a quarterbacking role for organizations primarily working at the state and local levels. The number also suggests that annual dues amount to roughly $660 per teacher, which is just around one percent of the U.S. average teacher salary of $56,000.
As with other matters when it comes to the Big Two, the $2.2 billion union budget is only surprising for those who have not yet reviewed the basic math of American public education.
Yes, the unions really spend a third of their resources on advocacy: Lavasany and other union spokespeople argue that unions spend less than $700 million in advocacy because “most” of their money is spent in member services. Unpacking this claim requires a detour into union dues, how they are collected, and how they are classified.
The starting point is 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that union officials could compel all teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The Court held that such “compulsory dues” harm teachers’ First Amendment rights, as they compel teachers to pay for political speech. So long as the compulsory dues are used only for advocacy related to collective bargaining, however, the Court held them to be permissible.
As an outgrowth of the Abood decision, most teachers around the country have union dues deducted automatically from their paychecks. Union officials calculate which portion of those dues are related to collective bargaining (so-called “chargeable” expenses), and which dues are unrelated (so-called “non-chargeable” expenses which teachers may opt out of paying).
As the Supreme Court itself noted last year — and as Dropout Nation has noted — the decades since 1977 have revealed two practical problems with the Abood framework. First, the question of chargeable vs. non-chargeable is notoriously thorny, and remains the subject of ongoing litigation to this day. Many kinds of laws can be called related to teachers’ collective bargaining, including parent choice rules, teacher evaluation frameworks, and even a state’s overall levels of taxation and spending.
Second, the classification system is rife with conflicts of interest. The union officials who benefit directly from these revenue allocations have day-to-day responsibility for deciding which expenses are chargeable vs. non-chargeable. Every year, union staffers and their paid accountants make thousands of individual determinations about how to classify their time and expenses. From these classifications, the unions can essentially create as much revenue as they think they need. Even if every union staffer is a saint, their belief in their cause gives them a constant incentive to err on the side of higher compulsory dues.
This framework allows the accounting results to exactly match the public relations claims. Consider the response to last year’s Dropout Nation report from the AFT spokesman Lavasany that “vast majority of that money is spent on supporting members, not on politics.” Sure enough, this matches up with the 2013 audit report signed by the AFT’s accountants, which duly allocated 71.5 percent of the AFT’s revenues to “chargeable” expenses related to collective bargaining. Those overseeing the audit included AFT’s Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, a longtime AFT negotiator and officer, and Calibre, a certified public accountancy that specializes in serving the interests of labor unions.
A 2014 audit report AFT filed in California, writing to reflect an arbitrator’s decision between objecting teachers and the union’s United Teachers Los Angeles unit, made a slightly more conservative estimate of 66 percent of the revenues going toward “chargeable” expenses. Either way, the unions admit that between 25 percent and 33 percent of dues are allocated to political activities unrelated to collective bargaining and workplace issues.
Here’s the funny thing: Even if you take the union officials’ numbers at face value, the result actually confirms the thrust of Dropout Nation’s analysis. The pro bono consultants who went through the unions’ published national, state, and local tax returns estimated based on their research, interviews, and sampling that roughly one third of the unions’ efforts went toward political advocacy. This is what drove the $700 million estimate: one third of $2.2 billion is slightly more than $700 million. If the 2014 auditor’s report is correct, and that result applies to union spending allocations across the country, then it serves as independent confirmation, rather than rebuttal, of what Dropout Nation turned up.
Indeed, if even the unions’ auditing numbers say that one third of their expenses are not chargeable, the reality is probably a much higher number. This has been borne out by Dropout Nation in five years of reports on NEA and AFT spending: Often times, the two unions and their affiliates list what often turns out to be political spending under the category of “representational activities”. If anything, the $700 million estimate probably underestimates the amount of money NEA and AFT and their units spend on politics.
About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.
It’s been a long year in the Capitol for those of us who advocate against higher taxes, crushing regulations and wasteful government spending. The good news is that California taxpayers have prevailed in virtually all the major tax fights this year. The bad news is that, because the legislature convenes for two-year sessions, this is only halftime. On January 4, 2016 – less than 4 months from now – the same cast of characters will reconvene and we will have to fight many of the same battles yet again. Still, it is helpful to assess how homeowners and working Californians fared in the legislative process this year.
For Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, there is no higher priority than defending Proposition 13 against attacks. As a constitutional amendment, Prop 13 cannot be amended by the Legislature directly. But that doesn’t mean the politicians can’t inflict harm. Indeed, with a two-thirds vote of each house, the California Legislature can place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. And if an anti-Prop 13 measure is sufficiently enticing or deceptive, voters might unwittingly take away some of their own rights as taxpayers.
This past year, there were three such proposals. Two were efforts to lower the two-thirds vote requirement at the local level as a condition for higher taxes. This is an important part of Prop 13 because the higher vote threshold was put in place to prevent local governments from taking away the benefits of Prop 13’s reduced property tax burden by simply imposing new or higher levels of other local taxes. The third attack on Prop 13 was an effort to take away the provision that limits annual increases in the taxable value of property to two percent. Although not affecting all property owners, this dangerous bill was simply “Step 1” for the complete repeal of Prop 13.
As noted above, the good news is that all three proposals were vigorously opposed by HJTA and each was stopped. But the bad news is that these proposals to repeal or weaken Prop 13 will be back come January.
Over and above our Prop 13 victories, taxpayers also stopped a myriad of other taxes including one proposal that would have slammed every California family that relies on their car for work, errands or pleasure. That proposal would have imposed big increases in the gas tax, the cost of getting a license and the annual vehicle registration fee. Stopping that awful tax hike was a very high priority for the more than 200,000 members of HJTA.
An equally dreadful proposal to extend the sales tax to services – a bill which would slam taxpayers with over $100 billion in higher consumer costs every year – was also derailed, at least for now.
Wars are not fought alone and taxpayers should be very grateful to those legislators who stood on the right side. Because taxes imposed by the Legislature require a two-thirds vote, our allies had the votes to stop the attacks even though a large majority in both the Assembly and Senate never met a tax they didn’t like.
A huge vote of thanks is due to the Republicans and their leaders who stood united against the assault. But we should also note that several moderate Democrats withstood the withering criticism of their colleagues and the left-leaning media to actually represent the interests of their taxpaying constituents. That sort of courage is a rare thing in politics.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.