When considering the influence of unions on American society, there are vast differences depending on what type of union one considers.
Private sector unions, for all the criticisms they may deserve, have nonetheless played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker. Subject to appropriate regulations, private sector unions have the opportunity to continue to play a vital role in American society. If they would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform. That would elevate the wages and benefits of all American workers, especially those doing low paying jobs.
Public sector unions, on the other hand, should be illegal. They negotiate with elected officials who they help elect. They negotiate for a share of coerced tax revenue, rather than for a share of profits, meaning there are no competitive checks on how much they can demand. The agenda of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. But given the reality of public sector unions, it is important to recognize that some public sector unions are worse than others.
Public safety unions, for example, have successfully lobbied for pension benefits that are not sustainable. This calls for a difficult but necessary economic discussion that can only end two ways – either these pension benefits are going to be reduced, or cities and counties across California and elsewhere will go bankrupt in the next major recession. But public safety unions have not undermined their profession the way the teachers unions have.
The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.
Work Rules Harm Public Schools
One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California. In this case, attorneys representing public school students argued that union negotiated work rules harmed their ability to receive a quality education. In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.
Despite winning in the lower courts, the Vergara case was eventually dismissed by the California Supreme Court. Teachers still get tenure after less than two years of classroom observation. Incompetent teachers are still nearly impossible to fire. And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcount in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs. The consequences of these self-serving work rules are more than academic.
The evidence that California’s public schools are failing is everywhere. Los Angeles, a city whose residents are – perhaps more than anywhere else – representative of America’s future, is home to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), with 640,000 K-12 students. And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.
Attack Innovative Charter Schools
In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case. But instead, these unions are relentlessly trying to unionize charter schools, which would force those schools to adhere to the same union work rules. In Los Angeles, the Alliance Network of charter schools has delivered demonstrably better educational outcomes for less money, while serving nearly identical student populations.
How does it help to impose union work rules on charter schools that are succeeding academically? How does that help the children who are America’s future?
A Left-Wing Political Agenda
The other way the teachers union is unique among public sector unions is their hyper-partisanship. Despite and often in defiance of their memberships, nearly all unions are left-wing partisan organizations. Nearly all of them support left-wing causes and Democratic political candidates. But the teachers unions do so with a zeal that dwarfs their counterparts. Larry Sand, a former LAUSD teacher and prolific observer of teachers union antics, has spent years documenting their left wing agenda.
For example, reporting on the annual conventions of the two largest national teachers unions, Sand writes: “The National Education Association convention at the beginning of the month gave us a clue which theory would become reality when the union passed quite a few über liberal New Business Items, maintained its lopsided leftward political spending, and gave rogue quarterback Colin Kaepernick a human rights award. And here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association continues its one-way spending on progressive initiatives and endorsed 35 state legislators in the June primary – all Democrats.
A week after the NEA convention, the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers held its yearly wingding and left absolutely no doubt as to its future political direction. The resolutions passed by the union at the convention would make any socialist proud. Universal health care – whether single-payer or MediCare for All, full public funding for, and free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and universal, full-day, and cost-free child care are what AFT wants for the country. Additionally, the union resolved to double per-pupil expenditures for low-income K-12 districts and to ‘tax the rich’ to fully fund ‘IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I and state allocations to public colleges and universities.'”
Left-Wing Student Indoctrination
This left-wing political agenda finds its way into the classroom, of course. At the same time as California’s K-12 public school students are not being effectively taught English or math skills, they are being exposed to agenda-driven political and cultural indoctrination.
Again, as documented by Larry Sand: “Nor are textbooks safe. Communist and notorious America-hater Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is assigned in many high school history classes. Zinn felt that the teaching of history “should serve society in some way” and that “objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable.” As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia. Additionally, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi notes that pages and pages of the latest California History, Social Science Framework ‘are devoted to identity politics, and the environmentalist, sexual, and anti-Vietnam War movements, with detailed and extensive bibliographical references. In contrast, the contemporaneous conservative movement, which succeeded in electing Californian Ronald Reagan as president, with its complex mixture of social, economic and national security sub-movements, is given cursory and passing mention, with no references provided.'”
Public sector unions are going to be with us for a long time. But in the wake of the Janus ruling, members who don’t agree with the political agenda of these unions can quit, depriving them of the dues that – to the tune of nearly a billion per year just in California – make them so powerful.
Teachers, in particular, should carefully consider this option. America’s future depends on it.
The reactions from representatives of California’s public sector unions to the Janus ruling are revealing. For any member thinking about quitting these unions, these reactions, and the political agenda they epitomize, bear close scrutiny.
Here are excerpts from a press release regarding Janus on the California Teachers Association website: “Today’s ruling is an attack on working people that attempts to further rig the economy … the decision is the result of a well-funded and nationally orchestrated effort to weaken the ability of working men and women to come together as unions and to speak with one, united voice.”
And here are excerpts from what the Peace Officers Research Association of California had to say about Janus on their website: “This is the dawn of the war against both labor unions and the law enforcement profession in this country, and no association should choose to stand alone. A united voice is more important now than ever before.”
These responses typify the reactions from California’s public sector unions, and there is one major fact they willfully ignore. Janus did not affect private sector unions at all. As always, these government unions pretend they have solidarity with unions that operate in the private sector. They don’t. Government unions don’t have to be reasonable when they negotiate. Instead of putting a company out of business, which is what an unreasonable demand could do to a private company, government unions just elect and control politicians who vote to raise taxes.
What irony. These government unions depend on taxes paid by private sector “working men and women,” yet falsely claim solidarity with them.
While we’re on the topic of solidarity, why on earth would PORAC want to declare solidarity with the teachers union? There are legitimate reasons to criticize police unions, and police officers could probably operate just fine with civil service protection combined with the clout wielded by voluntary associations that didn’t engage in collective bargaining. But police unions did not destroy the effectiveness of law enforcement. They’re actually doing a pretty good job. The teachers union, on the other hand, has nearly destroyed public education.
So why, PORAC, would you need to declare that “a united voice is more important now than ever before”?
Now that union members can stop paying dues, it’s unlikely members of public safety unions will do so. The level of cohesion among public safety professionals, law enforcement, fire fighters, and correctional officers, is far higher than what might unify teachers. The knowledge that public safety professionals may at any time have to face strategically applied cartel violence, or unexpected natural conflagrations of stupefying ferocity, gives them a sense of fellowship that teachers – for all the nobility of their calling – will never know.
Janus isn’t just about quitting the union, however. Even if members choose to continue to pay their dues to public safety unions, that doesn’t mean they can’t hold them more accountable. Public safety unions could channel more of their political activism into helping to counter the leftist political agenda of the teachers unions.
Public safety professionals realize the consequences of leftist policies. Every day they patrol and protect communities ravaged by welfare programs that have destroyed work ethics and dismantled nuclear families. Every day they cope with fallout from gang conflict and drug abuse. Every day they endure the frustration of contending with problems caused by a porous border, ruthlessly controlled on its southern side by the renegade private armies of a corrupt and failed state. Every day they have to mitigate these ongoing and escalating problems while looking over their shoulder to see if they’ve “profiled” someone or committed some similar phony transgression. Every day they have to endure undeserved hostility, funded and fomented by anti-American leftist oligarchs, because of the isolated actions of a vanishingly few bad apples.
For these reasons, public safety unions have, for the most part, stayed in touch with the political sentiments of their members. Their political advocacy at the state and national level has been neutral or conservative.
The teachers union is a completely different story. Many public school teachers, possibly even a majority, witness daily examples of the same consequences of leftist policy. They see the almost unbelievable absurdity of now being forced to allow racial quotas to govern how many students they may suspend or expel. They see the children entering school each day bearing the scars of homes broken by welfare, or devastated by drug abusing parents. They understand the futility of trying to teach effectively when permissiveness is the answer to misbehavior, and the worst teachers are protected at all costs by a fanatical union.
The agenda of the teachers union is preposterously misguided. They want open borders. They promote multiculturalism over assimilation. They’re training young immigrant students to believe that America – the most welcoming, tolerant culture in the history of the world – is a hostile and racist nation where they will inevitably be victims of discrimination. They’ve even gotten rid of English immersion. They’re teaching young boys to deny their masculinity, and training young girls to resent the “patriarchy.” On a scale of deplorable, with ten being the worst, the teachers union is an eleven. Disgruntled members should quit. Immediately. Permanently.
In a perfect world, private sector unions would thrive wherever they were needed – and they often are needed – in a right-to-work environment, and public sector unions would be illegal. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Until that time, the pretense of solidarity between public safety unions and the teachers union should be openly recognized as fraudulent. And the members, in both these unions, should aggressively use their new rights to hold their leaders politically accountable.
Ed Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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Here is a rebuttal to this column by Steven Greenhut.
A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions, February 2018
In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 2016
Pension Reform Requires Mutual Empathy, not Enmity, October 2015
Police Unions in America, December 2014
How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 2014