… or at least that’s what protection racket leader Randi Weingarten wants us to believe.
My goodness! From the response in certain quarters, you would think that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker breached national security – and then maybe tried to lie his way out of it! But no. All he did last week was sign off on right-to-work (RTW) legislation that lets workers in the Badger State choose whether or not they want to join and pay dues to a union as a condition of employment..
That’s it. Nothing more. Unions are not outlawed. Union members don’t have to ride on the back of the bus. Unions – heaven forbid – still don’t have to pay a penny in income tax. All they have to do is compete for members just like every other privately run organization in the country. If you buy a gun, you are not forced to pay money to the NRA. If you take out a book from the library, you don’t have to pay tribute to the American Library Association. So why in God’s name should a worker be forced to pay a union in order to be employed in certain fields?
I really can’t answer that question, and after reading condemnations from all the usual suspects, I’m still clueless. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten came out with a press release after the Wisconsin right-to-work law was passed that transcended hysteria. In addition to claiming that Walker fails “the test of common decency,” she lectured,
By his actions and statements, Walker has revealed that his plan to win the Republican nomination is a willingness to say and do anything to attack and tear down workers.
If you want a strong middle class, then you can’t take out the unions that built it. If you want higher wages, then workers need a voice.
The workers of Wisconsin are resilient. They will continue to fight back and wait until they have a governor who will work with them, not work to break them.
Again, no workers are being attacked and torn down. No one is refusing them their union. No one is trying to break them. (A few cynical types, but not me of course, have suggested that the real reason Weingarten is upset is because fewer union members would result in less money for the union. And a lower membership rate could mean that her $543,679 income, well within the top one percent, is in jeopardy.)
Other responses to Walker have been just as over-the-top. Marc Perrone, president of the 1.3 million strong United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, weighed in.
The truth is by standing against hard-working families, Gov. Scott Walker should be ashamed, but we know he is not. He has chosen to pursue a radical agenda that willingly ignores that this law will devastate countless workers and their families. Make no mistake, this law gives irresponsible corporations, let alone politicians, the right to exploit and mistreat countless men and women all across Wisconsin.
This barely coherent statement is pathetic, as is the notion that countless men and women are now going to be “mistreated.” In fact, since Michigan went RTW, the reverse is true. There, in less than two years of worker freedom, employment has grown 3.3 percent and earnings have increased 5.4 percent, both above the national average.
Even President Obama put on his pity-party pajamas and intoned,
… it’s inexcusable that, over the past several years … there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government.
So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans — by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave.
That’s how you give hard working middle-class families a fair shot in the new economy — not by stripping their rights in the workplace, but by offering them all the tools they need to get ahead.
Perhaps the president would be advised to examine the facts instead of engaging in demagoguery. James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, recently pointed out that in addition to protecting a worker’s freedom, right-to-work laws attract new businesses and jobs (unionized firms were 10 percent more likely to go out of business within seven years). Also, if a business is going to relocate, RTW laws are a major selling point. Also as I wrote last month, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that RTW states are much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts:
- From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
- As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
- From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
- Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
- Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.
And for those who insist that this is a “big business vs. the little guy” battle, a recent Gallup Poll found that 71 percent of Americans favor RTW laws with just 22 percent opposing. Gallup also found that 82 percent agree that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.”
Again – and this cannot be stressed enough – RTW legislation is not about outlawing unions, but rather freeing employees from a burden they never bargained for. Scott Manley, vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, put it best. “If you don’t support right-to-work, you support the proposition that workers should be fired if they don’t pay dues to a union,” he said.
Without RTW, workers have to pay up or else. When the Mafia engaged in this kind of activity, it was called a protection or extortion racket. Unions try to sanitize their operation by claiming that workers are paying their “fair share.” But in fact, it’s nothing more than a shakedown, and I congratulate Scott Walker and his legislature for liberating workers and enabling Wisconsin to become the 25th RTW state. We are officially half-way there.
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.
Think rich conservatives rule the world? Think again.
“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” George Orwell famously wrote, “needs a constant struggle.” In front of my nose as I write this is a copy of last Sunday’s New York Times. I have opened it to the business section. Below the fold isone of many Times articles on Thomas Piketty, the French economist and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which argues that America has entered a second Gilded Age of vast inequality, inherited fortunes, and oligarchic politics, where the shape of public discourse and public policy is determined by a wealthy few. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the Timessays, “follows in a tradition of works on political economy” that includes The Wealth of Nations, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Principles of Political Economy, Das Kapital, and The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. They’re not kidding.
Above the article on Piketty is another profile, headlined “Comcast’s Real Repairman.” Its subject is David Cohen, the executive vice president of the communications giant Comcast, who wants the government to approve the proposed merger between his company and Time Warner Cable. The deal would make Comcast the largest cable provider in America, with some 30 million customers.
Last year Cohen made about $14 million. He began his career as chief of staff to Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. And while he backs some Republicans, mainly Pennsylvania politicians who stand to make life easier for his Philly-based conglomerate, Cohen leans left. His political giving favors Democrats, as does the overall giving of his company. President Obama, who appears frequently on Comcast-owned networks, has golfed with Cohen’s boss. Obama has been to Cohen’s house. “I have been here so much,” he said during a 2013 visit, “the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have Seder dinner.” There is always next year.
If the business editors of the Times were aware of the irony of lamenting the political influence of great wealth on one half of their page while handling it with kid gloves on the other, they gave no sign. “Mr. Cohen says he understands the criticism that he has access most citizens do not,” says the article, before handing Cohen the microphone. “But I also don’t believe in unilateral disarmament,” he said. Two paragraphs earlier, he had said, “My priorities in political giving are Comcast priorities. I don’t kid myself. My goals are to support the interests of the company.”
There you have it: A wealthy Democratic donor admits he funds candidates to improve his bottom line. And yet I hear from the Senate floor no denunciations of his attempts to buy American democracy, no labeling of him as un-American. I have not received a piece of direct mail soliciting donations to fight David L. Cohen’s hijacking of the political process, nor do I wake up every day to investigations of the Cohen political and charitable network. Why?
My confusion only grows as I turn the pages of the paper and come to an article in the Sunday Styles section headlined “Including the Young and the Rich.” Here I learn that last month the White House held a secret meeting with “an elite group of 100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes.” This “discreet, invitation-only summit” was intended, the author says, “to find common ground between the public sector and the so-called next generation philanthropists, many of whom stand to inherit billions in private wealth.” Media were not allowed, the author says in a parenthetical, but he was “invited to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.” The author’s name is Jamie Johnson, he is worth around $610 million, and as of 2011 he was, I see, one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.
“I was a little worried they were going to get a bunch of rich kids in the room and fundraise for the Democratic Party,” said one of the participants. “But they didn’t.” The quote comes from 30-year-old Liesel Pritzker Simmons, whose billionaire cousin is the secretary of Commerce, and who along with her brother earned a $560 million inheritance by suing her dad. The Obama team did not have to hit up Pritzker Simmons for cash. She and her husband, an heir to the Montgomery Ward fortune, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats and liberal groups in recent years, including to ActBlue, the DSCC, Harry Reid’s Majority PAC, Priorities USA, Elizabeth Warren, and congressional candidate Sean Eldridge. Like Eldridge needs the money. He is married to Chris Hughes, who lucked into rooming with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and now is worth around $400 million.
Not every attendee at the trust-fund summit was an Obama donor. Zac Russell, “an eloquent 26-year-old” who recently joined his Russell Family Foundation, is “not an ardent supporter of the Obama administration.” Indeed, not even 30 years old, he speaks “with an air of cynicism” befitting his “scraggy Brooklyn-style facial hair” and “loosely fitting suit without a necktie.” He told Jamie Johnson, “Their head of public affairs contacted me and said, ‘Let’s talk,’ and so we’ll talk.” What they talked about was climate change and “grass-roots efforts to improve water quality in Puget Sound.” You know: real Tea Party stuff.
The world of unequal incomes that liberals self-righteously lament, the world of concentrated, inherited wealth, of politics dominated by the concerns of a few, is a world constructed by liberal methods according to liberal ideals. “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” Marx and Engels wrote in 1848. And there can be no denying that the ruling ideas of our age—diversity, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, gun control, free trade, unrestricted migration, sexual autonomy, feminism, environmentalism—are liberal ones.
The popular rhetoric of income inequality, the attacks on Charles and David Koch, the assertion that the system is rigged against the common man, the accusations that a vast right-wing conspiracy has despoiled the American landscape and society and polity—these are the means by which the ruling class masks its true position and justifies its continued agglomeration of power and of wealth.
The campaign against inequality and the call for higher taxes and the regulatory burdens placed on extractive industries further the self-interest of the liberals who rule our world partly because those liberals are already established in society and have already made their money, partly because like David Cohen or Tom Steyer or George Soros or Elon Musk or Warren Buffett they stand to benefit financially from their preferred outcomes, but also because there are fortunes to be made, there is status to be gained, in justifying the continued expansion of the welfare state, in designing plans for the redistribution of tax dollars, in demonizing those sections of the elite, and that minority of Americans, which dissent from the ruling ideas.
Seven of the 10 richest counties in the country voted for Barack Obama in 2012, many of them by huge margins. Six of the 10 are in the Washington, D.C., metro area, which has benefited from government employment and payment regulations, from government contracting, and from consulting, lobbying, and lawyering for clients petitioning the government. The median income of Falls Church City, Va., is $121,250 dollars. In 2012, Falls Church City voted for Obama 70 percent to 30 percent.
Democrats represent eight of the ten richest congressional districts in the country. Democrat Carolyn Maloney represents the district with the highest per capita income of $75,479. Outgoing congressman Henry Waxman represents the district with the second-highest per capita income of $61,273. The only two Republicans on the list are Rep. Leonard Lance, whose New Jersey district ranks seventh, and outgoing Rep. Frank Wolf, whose Virginia district ranks tenth. The average per capita income of Democratic House districts is $1,000 more than Republican ones.
Congressional Democrats have a higher median net worth than congressional Republicans. House Democrats have a higher median net worth ($929,000) than House Republicans ($884,000), while the median net worth of Senate Republicans ($2.9 million) is higher than that of Senate Democrats ($1.7 million). But it is not like the Senate Democrats are hurting financially. They have lost some wealthy members in recent years (Herbert Kohl, John Kerry, Frank Lautenberg). Of the 10 richest members of Congress, only three are Republicans.
The top 20 entries in the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans include conservative bogeymen such as Charles and David Koch (tied at number 4) and Sheldon Adelson (number 11). But these men are overwhelmed by Democratic fundraisers such as Warren Buffett (number 2), Michael Bloomberg (number 10), Jeff Bezos (number 12), Larry Page (number 13), Sergey Brin (number 14), and George Soros (number 19), as well as by billionaires who have donated more evenly between parties, such as Bill Gates (number 1) and Larry Ellison (number 3). Members of the Walton family, who fill four of the top 10 spots, have also donated to both parties, but in recent years have leaned Republican.
That does not include the Waltons’ charitable giving, however, which includes sizable donations to the left-wing Tides Foundation and Obama aide John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. Indeed, the partisan makeup of the super-rich is less interesting, and less important, than their ideological unity. The issues that the richest Americans care most passionately about, from gay marriage to comprehensive immigration reform to gun control to drug legalization to foreign aid, are liberal issues. Only the Kochs and Adelson are famous for making defiant and public stands against the spirit of the age.
The list of the 20 most highly compensated CEOs contains many Republicans, and some conservative ones. But it also contains plenty of Democrats and liberals. Ticket-splitter Ellison, who was paid $78.4 million in 2013, tops the list. Next is Disney CEO Bob Iger, who received $34.3 million in compensation in 2013, and is a generous Democrat. Other highly paid CEOs whose giving since 2009 has favored Democrats include outgoing Ford chief Alan Mulally, Larry Merlo of CVS, Kenneth Chennault of American Express, and Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm. When you make more than $19 million a year the line separating Democrats from Republicans becomes hazy. Is Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs a movement conservative? Is GE’s Jeffrey Immelt?
Eight of the 10 largest private foundations are liberal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest foundation with $37 billion in assets, to which Warren Buffett has pledged his trust, has delivered grants to the Tides Center and the Center for American Progress. So have the Ford Foundation ($11 billion in assets), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ($10 billion), the Hewlett Foundation ($8 billion), the MacArthur Foundation ($6 billion), and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($6 billion). The Kellogg Foundation ($8 billion) has donated close to $30 million to the Tides Foundation and to the Tides Center, and the Packard Foundation ($6 billion) has chipped in another $30 million to Tides affiliates, as well as founding, at a cost of $71 million, the environmentalist Energy Foundation.
Of the top 10 foundations, only number 7, the Lilly Endowment (with $7 billion in assets) leans conservative. Other notably liberal foundations in the top 100 include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Kresge Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and Soros’s Open Society Institute. The notorious conservative foundations that constitute the “counter-establishment” do not even crack the top 100. The Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, the largest conservative foundation, has assets of $640 million. The Charles G. Koch Foundation in 2012 had assets of $277 million. Conservative foundations are out-gunned.
So, too, are conservative media. The right has talk radio, Fox News Channel, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, National Review, and a bunch of plucky websites. Liberals have the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NPR, MSNBC, BBC, the Huffington Post, Slate, the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, the Daily Beast, GQ, Esquire, Time, Vogue, and many, many others. Not a single prominent institution of higher education, not a single prominent institution of high culture, can be described in any way as conservative. New York magazine admits that the “vast left-wing conspiracy is on your screen.”
The campaign of Barack Obama outraised the campaign of Mitt Romney. Overall, in 2012, the “red team” slightly outspent the “blue team” by a little more than $100 million. It made no difference. Not a single one of the top “all-time” institutional donors between 1989 and 2014 tilted Republican, according to a list compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Senate Democrats arewinning the 2014 money race. Even as they denounce Supreme Court rulings that loosen restrictions on political speech, liberal billionaires pledge gifts of $100 million and $50 million to Democrats in the 2014 election, and meet anonymously and in secret to coordinate giving to the multitude of organizations that make up the professional left. So effective has been the fundraising of hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer that President Obama, having delayed the Keystone pipeline yet again, is likely to kill it.
“It’s very difficult to make a democratic system work when you have such extreme inequality,” Piketty told the Times last Sunday, “and such extreme inequality in terms of political influence and the production of knowledge and information.” In fact the mechanisms of democracy seem to be working precisely as the capitalist and petty-bourgeois liberals would like them to work: the question among Democrats these days is just how permanent their majority is likely to be.
What we are in danger of losing because of the “extreme inequality in terms of political influence and the production of knowledge and information” are the classical liberal values of negative freedom, of religious liberty, of equality before the law, of free markets. The inequality of income our bipartisan ruling class sanctimoniously condemns is the very tool it uses to shore up the inequalities of power and communication from which it benefits. Affluent, self-righteous, self-seeking, self-possessed, triumphalist, out of touch, hostile to dissent—this is what oligarchy looks like in the twenty-first century. And it is all in front of one’s nose.
About the Author: Matthew Continetti is editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, he was opinion editor of the Weekly Standard, where he remains a contributing editor. The author of The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine (Doubleday, 2006) and The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star (Sentinel, 2009), Continetti’s articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. This article originally appeared in the Washington Free Beacon on April 25, 2014 and appears here with permission.
Though National School Choice Week ended a couple of weeks ago, reactionary rhetoric and political clashes are just heating up.
With National School Choice Week behind us, the battle – and it is a battle – to free our children from a monopoly by zip-code public education system is being fought on fronts all over the country, and in red and blue states alike, more and more Democrats are breaking ranks and joining Republicans in the fight.
In New York City, Eva Moskowitz, runs the wildly popular and thriving Success Academy Charter Schools – ten of the 22 schools are in Harlem – which cater to 6,700 students from overwhelmingly poor and minority families. They scored in the top 1 percent in math and top 7 percent in English on the most recent state test. You might think that this would make her a welcome figure in the Big Apple. But turns out that new mayor Bill de Blasio (and fellow Democrat) along with his teacher union friends, have it in for the charter operator.
The Wall Street Journal asks and then answers a question,
How did Ms. Moskowitz, a hero to thousands of New Yorkers of modest means whose children have been able to get a better education than their local public schools offered, end up becoming public enemy No. 1?
She is the city’s most prominent, and vocal, advocate for charter schools, and therefore a threat to the powerful teachers union that had been counting the days until the de Blasio administration took over last month from the charter-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assailed by Mayor de Blasio and union leaders, Ms. Moskowitz is fighting back with typically sharp elbows.
“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,” she says. “It’s just wacky.”
Perhaps they “should be embracing charters” and quite a few do. However, many more who claim to be “progressive” are anything but. In fact, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers who slavishly fight against any meaningful education reform are really reactionaries. And it’s no secret that Moskowitz has had a teacher union problem for years now.
… in 1999, Ms. Moskowitz won a council seat representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Three years later, she took the helm of the council’s education committee. A competitor for that chairmanship was a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio.
Ms. Moskowitz says the union had previously controlled the committee and set its agenda, even providing cue cards to members. At a delicate moment for the UFT’s talks with City Hall on a new contract, Ms. Moskowitz held hearings on the teachers union’s work rules and other restrictions in the contract. That move secured the enmity of Randi Weingarten, who ran the local union then and is now president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“The unions decided to get political retribution and they succeeded,” Ms. Moskowitz says. The UFT led the opposition to her failed 2005 bid for Manhattan borough president. Ms. Moskowitz soon after decided to try to reform in New York another way, starting the inaugural Harlem Success Academy. It was quickly bounced from its shared home at a public school.
“Randi Weingarten came in and said, ‘Over my dead body,’ ” according to Ms. Moskowitz. But a former political sparring partner, then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, became an ally. The Bloomberg administration wanted to “flood the zone” in Harlem with alternatives to failing district schools. Half the kids in Harlem today attend charters, among them KIPP, Democracy Prep and Harlem Children’s Zone. Across New York, 70,000 students go to a charter.
The next time a teachers union leader insists that they are really “for the children,” please refer the true believer to Eva Moskowitz.
Then we have President Obama, who favors charter schools but draws the line at privatization. He well knows that if he came out in favor of vouchers, the unions would throw him under the school bus. But as a lame duck, one has to wonder why he is still holding that position. The president was forced recently to address the voucher issue head on when Fox’s Bill O’Reilly confronted him on Super Bowl Sunday.
Mr. Obama said that the means-tested voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C, “didn’t actually make that much of a difference,” and added, “As a general proposition, vouchers have not significantly improved the performance of kids that are in these poorest communities.”
In fact, the president is dead wrong. Study after study has shown that vouchers improve student outcomes and have the biggest impact on low-income minorities. Additionally, private schools are taxpayer-friendly – doing a better job for less money. As writer Jason Riley points out,
Mr. Obama’s problem with vouchers is not that they don’t work. Rather, it’s that they work all too well and thus present a threat to the education status quo and the teachers unions who control it. Democrats like Mr. Obama are deeply dependent on union support–so dependent that they will sometimes tell bald-faced lies about school-choice research on national television and hope that no one notices.
On a national level, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced legislation that would help poor and disabled kids as well as military families.
Under Alexander’s legislation, states could opt to allocate the newly-consolidated funds to low-income parents, giving them much more say over how their child’s share of federal education dollars are spent. Parents could use the money to help pay for private school, supplement their public or public charter’s school’s budget, attend a public school outside their home district, or cover the cost of tutoring services or home schooling materials. Each child would get an average of $2,100 in annual federal aid, under the proposal.
Scott released the CHOICE Act, which stands for the Creating Hope and Opportunities for Individuals and Communities Through Education Act. The bill would allow special education dollars to follow children to the school of their choice.
… Scott’s bill would create a five-year, $10 million pilot program to offer military families scholarships of up to $12,000 for use at public or private schools. (The cost of the program would be offset by a decrease in the U.S. Department of Education’s salaries and expenses account.) Scott is also seeking to boost the number of students receiving aid under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally-funded voucher program for low-income students in Washington.
Needless to say, the National Education Association is not in favor of this kind of help to those in need. On the union’s legislative page, it gives a “jeer” to both Alexander and Scott for introducing the voucher proposals.
On the state level, there is more bad news for the unions. They will need to extinguish fires in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, Indiana, Wisconsin and elsewhere, as school choice and other education reforms have been embraced by many on both sides of the political aisle.
Of course there are still plenty of legislators who, having thrown in their lot with the union crowd, are vehemently anti-choice. On the NEA website, California Rep. George Miller (D-CA) gets a “thumbs-up” for demonizing National School Choice Week.
Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and their strategists, have embraced so-called ‘school choice’ as part of their rebranding efforts, to appear more caring … This new effort even has a warm and fuzzy name: the Growth and Opportunity Project. This is political posturing at its worst … If you ask most parents in America, they will tell you that their first ‘choice’ is for their neighborhood school to be a great school.
Yes, Mr. Miller, that would be nice, if all neighborhood schools were “great.” But they’re not. And if your local school was not up to par, you wouldn’t want to send your kids there, now would you?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also gets a shout-out from NEA for her “reaction to so-called school choice.”
I have always had great anxiety with the thought that we’d take public money, state money, and send it to private schools.
The reactionaries among us – certain educrats and legislators and of course the teachers unions – won’t go away easily. But “Choice Spring” has arrived, and the pro-choice movement has taken root. As parents, children and taxpayers get a taste of freedom, there will be no turning back.
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.
President Obama has talked a good education reform game, but when push comes to threats, he is above all a good union man.
On August 25th, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka uttered a few words that seemed to resonate with President Obama. He said, “The AFL-CIO has not yet decided if it will participate in next year’s Democratic National Convention, as labor union members ponder whether President Obama has earned their support.…” He said the major economic speech the president has planned for early next month will tell union members what they need to know about whether he will be worth supporting.”
Trumka has a history of following through on his threats. As president of the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1993, he wanted to ensure that no one would be able to find employment as a miner without paying union dues to the UMW. Accordingly, he proceeded to order more than 17,000 mine workers to walk off their jobs, and told the striking miners to “kick the sh– out of every last one” of their fellow employees and mine operators who resisted union demands. UMW thugs dutifully responded by vandalizing homes, firing gunshots into management’s offices, and cutting off the power supply to another mine, temporarily trapping 93 miners underground.
Now it’s true that Trumka didn’t threaten to “kick the sh–”out of the president, but he may as well have. Last week, when Obama gave his speech to Congress, the thuggish Trumka was part of a small group who sat with Mrs. Obama listening to the President spew out yet another stimulus plan (how’d that last one work out, Mr. President?) This time it will cost $447 billion, and like the 2009 version, will allegedly fix all our economic ails. Long on demagogic rhetoric and short on details, the president made it sound so simple, “Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America.”
Perhaps even more important to the president than AFL-CIO backing is the support of the biggest union in the country – the National Education Association. So not surprisingly he also offered more “free” money – $60 billion – to education. This money will allegedly save 280,000 jobs according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Since NEA gets $168 in dues from each of its members, it’s obvious why it welcomed Obama’s proposal. But that doesn’t mean that the union was satisfied.
When NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was asked if this was enough money to make him happy, he was dubious, saying that what’s needed is “more than they are willing to spend.” That’s because there is one dollar amount – and only one — that Van Roekel thinks is enough and that number is $MORE.
Clearly the extra money will fatten union coffers, but will keeping all these extra teachers’ jobs benefit American children and their families? Some will and some won’t. Due to the political heft of NEA, we still live in a country that treats teachers as widgets – and all do an equally good job.
As usual, Obama and his teacher union pals are avoiding a couple of obvious ways to save money. It has been demonstrably shown that charter schools do as good or better job for considerably less money and that a voucher system would save even more money.
As writer RiShawn Biddle put it, “This move is really just a waste of both taxpayer’s money and time that Obama could use to rally support for the education reform efforts that have been mostly-embraced on a bipartisan level. He would be better off tossing out the education portion of this stimulus and getting back to pushing for systemic reform.”
But Mr. Obama seems intent on his new tax-and-spend program and should Congress pass it, I have a suggestion as to where we might come up with some money. The NEA, which has an annual budget of $371 million, spent more than $56.3 million in the 2007-2008 election cycle on state and federal campaigns, political parties, and ballot measures, $12.5 million ahead of the second-place group. And yet, NEA doesn’t think it should pay income tax and rarely does.
The law says you must pay income tax unless you are a tax exempt entity, and if you are accorded that status, you cannot be involved with politicking. The Landmark Legal Foundation has been on to the NEA and its tax evasion for years now, and has gained some traction. In 2006, the Wisconsin Education Association, a NEA affiliate “realized it needed to pay $171,000 in federal taxes after LLF asked if the organization had paid taxes on $430,000 it gave to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Stan Johnson, the WEAC’s president, admitted the organization should have paid taxes on the expenditures.”
If NEA ever stopped blathering about the rich not paying their “fair share” and actually started paying its own (and were dinged for past years’ payments with appropriate penalties), it would certainly help to solve the budgetary problems it claims are inhibiting our education process.
Mr. President, as a “fair share” proponent, why don’t you look into why NEA, which spends hundreds of millions on politics – almost exclusively on liberal candidates and causes – pays almost no taxes? But then again, I guess I just answered my own question.
About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.