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Oy vey, Randi!

American Federation of Teachers Costly Staff Spending

Dropout Nation recently reported on the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. As you would expect, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent big on influencing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks, as well as pouring heavily into what should be like-minded advocacy and nonprofit groups.

But AFT’s big spending doesn’t just end with political campaigns and co-opting minority as well as hardcore progressive groups. The union even spends big on its own staff and operations.

Start with AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, whose paychecks put her in the top five percent of the nation’s income earners even as she engages in class warfare rhetoric. The union paid Weingarten $497,311 in 2015-2016, just a couple hundred dollars more than she pulled down in the previous year.

Also well-paid by the union is Loretta Johnson, who serves as its secretary-treasurer; her $358,225 in 2015-2016 was a grand or so higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile Mary Catherine Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who now serves as the union’s number two (and in the process, serving as an obstacle to United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew’s ambitions to succeed Weingarten as head of the national union), was paid $311,311, a 5.4 percent increase over her pay in 2014-2015.

Altogether, the AFT’s top three leaders collected $1.2 million last fiscal year, a slight increase over the $1.1 million paid to them by the union in 2014-2015.

Also making bank are AFT’s staffers, though there are slightly fewer of them this time around. Two hundred twenty-two staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2015-2016, seven fewer than the 229 in the previous year. Three out of every five staffers at AFT national headquarters earn six-figure sums. Among the union’s high-paid mandarins: Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is now Weingarten’s top assistant, made $230,736, while Michael Powell, who serves as Weingarten’s mouthpiece, earned $240,647. Kristor Cowan, the AFT’s chief lobbyist, earned $186,293, while Kombiz Lavasany, another operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $184,158.

Supporting these high salaries is an ever-declining rank-and-file base. AFT counts 675,902 full-time rank-and-filers on its roster in 2015-2016, a 3.4 percent decline over the 699,739 members on the roster in the previous fiscal year. [Dropout Nation does not call them members because in  nearly every case, AFT and its affiliates use state laws to force teachers to join.] This marks the third straight year of declines and the fifth year of decline within the past six.

The union also experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of half-time rank-and-filers (or school employees making less than $18,000 a year); a seven percent decline in one-quarter rank-and-filers (nurses and state government employees whose unions are affiliated with AFT); and a 2.7 percent decline in the number of one-eighth rank-and-filers. Seems like the union’s once-successful effort to strike affiliation deals with nursing and other government employee unions, an effort that put it in competition with the much-larger Service Employees International Union, has fallen to seed.

Even worse for AFT: Its effort to increase the number of so-called associate members who pay directly into national’s coffers, continues to be in free-fall. AFT counts just 49,984 such members on its rolls in 2015-2016, a 14.5 percent decline over the previous year. This shouldn’t be shocking. After all, AFT cannot provide associate members any real assistance in terms of negotiating teachers’ contracts or addressing work rules. Besides, the associate members can’t even vote in union elections.

As a result of these declines, AFT’s counts just 1.5 million rank-and-filers and voluntary members, a 4.3 percent decrease over the previous year.

The good news for AFT is that the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year assured that there was a tie vote on Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association; his vote would have likely led to the overturn of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five-decade-old ruling that gives AFT the ability to compel teachers pay dues regardless of their desire for membership. As your editor noted two years ago, the end of compulsory dues laws could cost AFT 25 percent of its membership and $36 million in revenue (based on 2012-2013 numbers), a hit for which the union isn’t likely ready to address.

The other good news for AFT is that it hasn’t affected revenue. The $192 million in dues and other agency fees (in the form of a so-called per-capita tax collected from locals and affiliates) generated by the union in 2015-2016 is 21 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year. AFT’s overall revenue of $328 million (including loan proceeds) is unchanged from 2014-2015.

This time around, the union didn’t have to borrow as heavily as it has in previous years to keep operations afloat; it borrowed just $55 million in 2015-2016, half the level of borrowing in the previous year. Overall, the union has borrowed $477 million over the past five years. The union did sell more of its investments in order to make due; the union sold $29 million of its portfolio in 2015-2016, more than double the investment sales in the previous year. Without the loans and investment sales, AFT’s revenues were just $244 million, a 15 percent increase over levels in 2014-2015.

But the bad news is that AFT may still lose revenue. One reason: The abolishing of collective bargaining and forced dues collections in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Michigan. This has resulted in AFT losing teachers who realize that they don’t have to pay into unions that don’t represent their interests.

Another problem for the union: More of its affiliates and locals are either merging with those of the National Education Association or striking affiliation agreements with it. Membership declines forcing such mergers is one reason. But as seen in California, where the AFT’s United Teachers Los Angeles has struck a joint affiliation deal with NEA, the AFT’s larger locals are realizing that such triangulation gives them stronger influence over education policy at state and local levels.

But the gains for the big locals (who honestly don’t need AFT affiliation anyway) means both lost revenue for AFT as well as the ability to keep locals from straying away from the party line. [There’s also that pesky matter of being forced into a merger with NEA, a matter long-discussed among hard-core traditionalists.] Given the rancor from AFT rank-and-filers over strong-arm moves by national to remove wayward leaders in locals such as Detroit, expect more large locals to strike joint affiliation agreements or even break away from the national union in the near-future.

The consequences of efforts to abolish collective bargaining and joint affiliations by locals don’t just hurt AFT’s ability to use money to preserve influence. It also harms its ability to pay for the high costs of employing so many six-figure staffers.

While benefit costs have barely budged (remaining at $17 million), AFT’s general overhead costs increased by 4.8 percent within the past year. The good news for AFT is that it was able to offset some of those expenses with a 10.8 percent decrease in so-called union administration expenses. Meanwhile AFT’s post-retirement obligations increased by six percent (to $38 million) in the past year.

Luckily for the AFT, its staffers and leaders pay into definedcontribution retirement plans used by the rest of the private and nonprofit sectors. A funny thing given its opposition to efforts by school reformers and others to move away from the virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pensions championed by Weingarten and the union. Hypocrisy is like that sometimes.

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.

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher Lives On

 Yet another “study” showing how poorly teachers are paid has surfaced.

Well, it’s a new school year and there is much tumult in the world of public education. Common Core battles, testing opt-outs, and litigation about school choice and teacher work rules dot the landscape. But with all the uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that there is one thing we can count on in late summer: a new bogus study showing that public school teachers are woefully underpaid.

This year’s entry doesn’t disappoint. “The teacher pay gap is wider than ever,” subtitled “Teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind pay of comparable workers” is a 29-page report released by the Economic Policy Institute, whose mission is “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would be followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the union party line.” You see, EPI is nothing more than a union front group whose board includes a rogue’s gallery of Big Labor honchos: AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, SEIU’s Mary Kay Henry, American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen-García, et al.

And not only do the teachers unions have strong board representation, they donate heavily to EPI. According to the latest labor department reports, 2015 saw NEA present a $250,000 gift to EPI, only to be outdone by the smaller AFT, which kicked in $300,000 to the organization.

The study itself is just what you would expect: loads of numbers that are supposed to make people think that teachers are essentially little more than impoverished serfs, valiantly slaving away for pennies. Among the report’s claims:

  • Teachers’ weekly wages are 23 percent lower than those of other college graduates.
  • For public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression adjusted for education, experience, and other factors) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s: It was ‑8 percent in 1994 and grew to a record ‑17.0 percent in 2015.
  • Regardless of experience, teacher wage gap expanded for female teachers.

Needless to say, the unions solemnly wrote about the report as if it were “news,” with NEA blogger Tim Walker suggesting that all teachers get a raise. And as day follows night, the media jumped on board. The relentless and reliably-unreliable Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss dutifully posted the whole report with the title, “Think teachers aren’t paid enough? It’s worse than you think.The Fiscal Times sounded alarm bells with “Teacher Pay Hits Record—but Not a Good One.”

But like most similar studies, EPI’s doesn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. It omits a few things like the simple fact that teachers work 6-7 hour days and 180 days a year, whereas the study’s “comparable workers” put in an 8-9 hour a day and work 240-250 days a year. (Yes, yes, I know teachers take work home, but so do many other professionals who don’t get summers off.) Also, unlike private-sector workers, most teachers have extensive health benefits for which they typically pay very little, if anything. Furthermore, as University of Missouri professor Michael Podgursky points out, the pension benefits for teachers, which they only pay a tiny portion of – the taxpayer getting hosed for the rest – add greatly to a teacher’s total compensation. (The EPI report actually alludes to this, but buries it on page 14; more on this in a bit.)

Perhaps the most honest and well-researched study done on teacher pay, including the time-on-the-job and benefits factors, was done in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. In their report, they destroy the teacher union-perpetuated myth of the under-compensated teacher. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are actually paid more than private-sector workers.

They make the case that workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs “receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.” Additionally, when retiree health coverage for teachers is included, “it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private-sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.”

Biggs and Richwine conclude that after taking everything into account, “teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

Back to the EPI study. On page 14 of the report, it acknowledges,

Our analysis of relative teacher pay thus far has focused entirely on the wages of teachers compared to other workers. Yet benefits such as pensions and health insurance are an increasingly important component of the total compensation package. Teachers do enjoy more attractive benefit packages than other professionals; thus, our measure of relative teacher wages overstates the teacher disadvantage in total compensation. The different natures of wages and benefits should be kept in mind, as it is only wages that may be spent or saved. Thus, the growing wage penalty is always of importance.

So in essence, the authors of the study come clean in this paragraph and admit that their stress on wages alone overstates the real disparity in pay. The “spent or saved” comment is especially ridiculous. Pension earnings are indeed “saved” for the future. Whatever. It’s obvious that this report is meant to tug at the heartstrings, build righteous indignation and provide local teachers unions with ammo for collective bargaining battles with school boards.

For an honest assessment of teacher pay, stick with the Biggs-Richwine study. But if one is looking for skewed and incomplete data as fodder for a splashy headline or an emotional plea, the dishonest and self-serving union-sponsored EPI report fills the bill beautifully.

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 Friedrichs Free Rider Fraud

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Friedrichs case has the unions in a tizzy.

On June 30th, the Supreme Court decided to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al, a case that could seriously change the way the public employee unions (PEUs) do business. If the plaintiffs are victorious, teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, etc. would be able to work without the financial burden of paying union dues. The responses to the Court’s decision from the teachers unions and their friends have ranged from silly to contradictory to blatantly dishonest.

In a rare event, leaders of the NEA, AFT, CTA, AFSCME and SEIU released a joint statement explaining that worker freedom would be a catastrophe for the Republic. Clutching their hankies, they told us that, “big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance.” And then, with an obvious attempt at eliciting a gasp, “…the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America.” (Perhaps the labor bosses misunderstood the wording of the preamble to the Constitution, “In order to form a more perfect union….” No, this was not an attempt to organize workers.) While the U.S. is not without its problems, removing forced unionism will hardly dent the “fundamental promise of America.”

The California Federation of Teachers, which typically is at the forefront of any class warfare sorties, didn’t disappoint. The union claims on its website that the activity of union foes “has resulted in a sharp decline in median wages for working people and the decline of the middle class alongside the increasing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of the one per cent.” But wait a minute – the unions are the most potent political force in the country today and have been for a while. According to Open Secrets, between 1989-2014, the much maligned one-percenter Koch Brothers ranked 59th in political donations behind 18 different unions. The National Education Association was #4 at $53,594,488 and the American Federation of Teachers was 12th at $36,713,325, while the Kochs spent a measly $18,083,948 during that time period. Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.”

So the question to the unions becomes, “With your extraordinary political clout and assertion that working people’s wages and membership in the middle class are declining, just what good have you done?”

Apparently very little. In fact, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research reports that when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – is adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) are forced-union states. “Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws.” Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 “was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.”

But the most galling and downright fraudulent union allegations about Friedrichs concern the “free rider” issue. If the case is successful, public employees will have a choice whether or not they have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. (There are 25 states where workers now have this choice, but in the other 25 they are forced to pay to play.) The unions claim that since they are forced to represent all workers, that those who don’t pay their “fair share” are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” The unions would have a point if someone was sticking a gun to their collective heads and said, “Like it or not, you must represent all workers.” But as I wrote recently, the forced representation claim is a big fat lie. Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst James Sherk explains,

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions that demonstrate majority support to negotiate as exclusive representatives. If they do so they must negotiate fairly on behalf of all employees, including those who do not pay dues. However unions may disavow (or not obtain) exclusive representative status and negotiate only for their members. Nothing in the National Labor Relations Act forces exclusive representation on unwilling unions. (Emphasis added.)

Mike Antonucci adds,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a ‘privilege’ we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

If there are still any doubters, George Meany, the first president of the AFL-CIO, whose rein began in 1955 and continued for 24 years, told Congress,

When a union has exclusive recognition with a federal activity or agency, that union is required to represent all workers in that unit, whether or not those workers are members of the union. We do not contest this requirement. We support it for federal service, just as we support it in private industry labor-management relations.

While the NLRA applies only to private employee unions, the same types of rules invariably govern PEUs. Passed in 1976, California’s Rodda Act allows for exclusive representation and it’s up to each school district and its local union whether or not they want to roll that way. However, it is clearly in the best interest of the union to be the only representative for teachers because it then gets to collect dues from every teacher in the district. It’s also easier on school boards as they only have to deal with one bargaining entity. So it is really a corrupt bargain; there is no law foisting exclusivity on any teachers union in the state.

So exclusive representation is good for the unions and simplifies life for the school boards, but very bad for teachers who want nothing to do with organized labor. It is also important to keep in mind that the Friedrichs case is not an attempt to “bust unions.” This silly mantra is a diversionary tactic; the case in no way suggests a desire to do away with unions. So when organized labor besieges us with histrionics about “the promise of America,” the dying middle class, free riders etc., please remind them (with a nod to President Obama), “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” In this case, it’s the truth.

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.

Getting Criminals Out of Schools

A new bill would keep pedophiles and violent criminals out of our schools; teachers unions balk. California law firm decides to try an end run.

A couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed a bill by a simple voice vote, which stipulated that public schools would be barred from employing teachers and other school employees who have been convicted of sexual offenses or violent crimes against children.

“Keeping children safe is not a partisan issue,” said the chief sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “It’s a moral obligation.”

“Every school employee, from the cafeteria workers to the administrators, to janitors to the teachers, principals and librarians, that everyone” is subject to background checks including the FBI fingerprint identification system to the national sex offender registry, said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.

Now just whom do you suspect might take issue with such a law?  

Go to the head of the class if you responded “teachers unions.” Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to Congress complaining about the proposed legislation. The NEA missive starts off with,

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to offer the following views on H.R. 2083 to require criminal background checks for school employees, which will be voted on tomorrow. (Emphasis added.)

On behalf of students? Did I miss something here? Has NEA forced students – as they do teachers in 26 states – to become beholden to the union? The rest of the letter is no better, and includes one truly bizarre comment. “…criminal background checks often have a huge, racially disparate impact.”

They do? Which race should get a pass? Would NEA be more in favor of the bill if it had a racially proportionate number of pedophiles? (Note to teachers: ya think maybe it’s time to stop supporting the loopy antics of NEA?)

Over at AFT command central, wily lawyer and union president Randi Weingarten submitted a longer and more nuanced letter to Congress, which includes the usual talking points, but does raise one issue that, at first glance, seems sensible.

We suggest that states with background check laws that are at least as demanding and thorough as those proposed in H.R. 2083 be granted the flexibility and authority to use their own state laws and procedures in place of the new federal rules laid out in the bill.

As a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, I think this is reasonable … on the surface. However, the reality is that the teachers unions, with their vast war chest and political clout, have managed to influence legislation that favors all teachers “rights” over the best interests of children in many states. One needs to look no further than California for a glaring example.

In 2012, California state senator Alex Padilla wrote SB 1530, which would have streamlined the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals that all teachers are currently entitled to. In fact, Padilla’s bill, narrow in scope, dealt only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. But this sensible legislation was quashed in the Assembly Education Committee where the teachers unions’ hairy not-so-hidden hand rules supreme.

Then earlier this year, the teachers unions got behind AB 375, a watered-down, poorly written dismissal bill that, though it would have made some things even worse, was nevertheless passed by both houses of the California legislature. Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

So the question becomes how to pass legislation in the many states where the teachers unions are all powerful. Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a law firm in the Golden State, has come up with a solution: bypass the legislature and let the voters decide directly. Last week, the legal team submitted a proposed ballot measure which they are calling the “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers from Working in California Schools Act.”

Should the initiative become law, the California Education code would be amended. The essence of the proposal:

Current law includes loopholes for school employees perpetrating egregious misconduct to remain on the public payroll and earn continuing retirement credit for excessive time after having been charged in writing with committing egregious misconduct and being notified of a decision to terminate employment thereby increasing the dismissal costs to school districts and draining resources from schools and the children they serve.

School employees perpetrating egregious misconduct in California have exploited loopholes to delay and conceal dismissal proceedings manipulating school districts to pay-off, reassign, enter into agreements to expunge evidence of egregious misconduct from district personnel files, and approve secret settlement agreements enabling the school employee to continue to perpetrate offenses in other schools and school districts, thereby infringing on the inalienable right of students and staff to attend public primary, elementary, junior high, and senior high school campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful as guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of California.

Accordingly, the People of the State of California declare that to secure the constitutional guarantee of students and staff to be safe and secure in their persons at public primary, elementary, junior high and senior high school campuses, school districts must have the appropriate statutory authority to expeditiously remove and permanently dismiss perpetrators of egregious misconduct without facing lengthy and costly litigation or creating incentives to transfer the school employee to another assignment, school or school district.

According to LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo, the Attorney General’s office has until Dec. 23rd to title and summarize the initiative. After that, proponents have 150 days to circulate a petition throughout the state and collect 504,760 signatures.

The teachers unions have yet to comment on the proposed initiative, but when they do, rest assured it won’t be favorable. Presumably they’ll rail about the rights of teachers and trot out their usual warnings about the bill’s negative effect on “the children.” Maybe they’ll blather on about how the initiative might disparately affect some unnamed minority. In other words they will do everything possible to convince the public that the initiative is wrong for California. Exactly how low the union will go is anyone’s guess, but as Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

How will the voters of California respond to the unions’ barrage of distortions and red herrings that will undoubtedly pollute the public airwaves? If the initiative gets on the ballot, we will find out a year from now. Stay tuned.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.