The Teachers Unions Faux Grassroots Organizing

The Hedge Clippers, a union run and organized group, laughably pretends to be grassroots.

The Hedge Clippers, born last year, is an anti-capitalist, left-wing, purportedly grassroots organization whose focus is on exposing “the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power.” The group received a mention in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago in a piece that centered around American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who sicced them on a bunch of hedge fund managers that are involved with education and pension reform that the union finds objectionable. Perhaps #1 on the Hedge Clippers’ enemies list is Daniel Loeb, founder of the $16 billion Third Point fund. Loeb has the temerity of being a financial supporter of the wildly successful Harlem Success Academy charter school franchise, run by Weingarten’s avowed enemy, Eva Moskowitz. Weingarten has also accused Loeb of being involved with a group that is “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds.”

The very same day the Journal piece appeared, the Los Angeles Times ran an “exposé” claiming that “activists reveal more dark-money donors to campaigns against unions and schools-funding tax.” The article centers around the Hedge Clippers outing donors who they claim made undisclosed contributions in 2012 as part of a “dark-money” scheme to defeat Prop 30, an initiative that raised income taxes on the richest Californians and sales tax on all Californians. The essential point of the article is that the Hedge Clippers have discovered that evil and greedy capitalists contributed money to an out-of-state organization, which circulated funds through a series of other groups and eventually back to California.

But just how does the Hedge Clippers enterprise do business? Is this really a “grassroots” entity, as billed? In “United Front: Teachers Unions Quietly Spend Millions on ‘Grassroots’ Groups The 74’s David Cantor reveals that the “grassroots organization” has been created, funded, and directed by two of the nation’s largest political contributors – you guessed it – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  The group is led by a union lobbyist who is based at New York City’s United Federation of Teachers headquarters. Moreover, Cantor points out that the Hedge Clippers’ “crusade against opaque financial dealings also seems at odds with the fact that in the last election only two organizations contributed more than the AFT to 527s – less-regulated groups that, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can raise unlimited money for or against candidates….”

But wait, there’s more.

Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci weighed in on the subject, pointing out that despite the contributions of those “opposing economic justice,” the Prop. 30 campaign was successful. Perhaps the fact that the alleged grassroots folks (mostly public employee unions) outspent the greedy and evil hedge-funders by almost $14 million had something to do with it.

To fully grasp the teachers unions’ “grassroots” activity, check out the following chart, plucked from the California Teachers Association website. (H/T Antonucci.)

CTA - grassroots chart

As you can see, CTA’s (like most teachers unions’) political organizing is top-down, centrally planned, bureaucratic and frequently at odds with its own rank-and-file. The unions are many things, but grassroots? Hardly. They are run more like the Politburo.

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.

Tales from the Unions’ Dark (Money) Side

The unions preen and posture as political underdogs, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks to the teachers unions and the American left, the term “dark money” – political spending by groups whose own donors are allowed to remain hidden – is most closely associated with two successful industrialists from Kansas – the Koch brothers. But what many don’t know is that the teachers unions are involved in dark money – and worse – big time.

First, last fall there was a mysterious $480,000 ad buy which helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous and sneaky path, was a gift from the American Federation of Teachers.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s National Education Association affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.” The MTA can balk till the 12th of Never, but a couple of weeks ago AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” Given that their illegal gift was a roaring success, the $30,000 fine was a slap on the wrist.

Then there is AFT president Randi Weingarten, who as a member of  George Soros’ left-wing Democracy Alliance (whose president is NEA executive director John Stocks), was criticized for her participation in the dark money group. In response she tweeted, “…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” (How she can say things like this with a straight face is beyond me.)

For the unions, the Kochs’ bête-noire status is only outdone by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to the creation of “super PACs” and an accompanying uptick in dark money expenditures. The ruling especially benefited corporations – and unions – which had spending restrictions removed. But never missing an opportunity to twist the narrative by telling a blatant half-truth, Weingarten warned, “Citizens United and our failure to enact campaign finance reforms have led to an improper influence of corporate power. If the Supreme Court now strikes down aggregate contribution limits, it will further privilege wealthy donors in the political process and further undermine working people’s confidence that government is serving the public interest.” Loosely translated: “We can’t stand any competition.”

What the union leaders don’t tell us is that they have used Citizens United to their great advantage. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks the political spending of groups and individuals who wrote checks of more than $10,000 to super PACs and other political committees, found that “big labor outspent big business by a margin of more than 2-to-1 during 2013.”

‘When it comes to writing big checks to favored candidates and causes, unions last year seemed to be taking greater advantage of the landmark Citizens United decision than corporations,’ said Jacob Fenton, an editorial engineer for the Sunlight Foundation.

That might come as something of a surprise, because the union — like many of its brethren — has publicly spoken against Citizens United and even called for Congress to overrule the Supreme Court on the issue.

AFT continued to bellyache, and in a 2012 statement called for the case to be overturned:

The Citizens United ruling has opened the floodgates to massive spending by corporations and even more so by wealthy donors. They are pouring money into our electoral system and threaten to drown out the voices of hard-working Americans.

Yet another flagrant half-truth. Looking at political spending in aggregate reveals a very different story. According to Open Secrets, from 1989-2014 12 of the top 17 “heavy hitters” are unions (NEA is #3 and AFT is #12) – all of which donate almost exclusively to Weingarten’s team – Democrats. ActBlue, which is by far the biggest spender sees over 99 percent of its largess go to Democrats. The other four major players (Goldman Sachs, AT&T, JP Morgan and the National Association of Realtors) disburse money to both parties. (Spending since the advent of Citizens United is in line with the 25-year numbers.)

In keeping with the unions grousing, victim-speak, disinformation and cheating, it should come as no surprise that CTA and SEIU led the charge against SB 52 in California. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, the Democrat-sponsored bill would have let voters know who is paying for ballot measure ads – on the ads themselves. “Companies and unions could no longer hide behind front groups to keep their identities secret from voters. No more tiny on-screen text. TV ads would show the top three funders in big, readable letters on a black background.” But the unions got their way, managing to get the bill tossed in the “inactive file” this past Friday.

So while the unions join Harry Reid in excoriating the Koch brothers, they ultimately “out-Koch” them. They screech over Citizens United while at the same time taking maximum advantage of it. Then when a bill comes along to promote political donation transparency, they lobby to kill it. The unions are not about fairness; they are about power plain and simple – and using it in any way they can to force their agenda down our throats.

“…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” I mean, really, Randi??!! All the faux appeals to “reg folks” can’t hide the exceedingly hypocritical dark side of unions – especially the teacher variety, which hose the “reg folks” on a daily basis. Fortunately the “reg folks” are figuring that out and the unions’ popularity with them is at an all-time low.

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.

Union “Hubrocrisy”

Teachers unions reside at the corner of Hubris St. and Hypocrisy Ave. 

A few days ago, Politico’s Stephanie Simon wrote about a new teachers union get-out-the-vote strategy. Attempting to regain some of their political turf as the midterm elections approach, they’re fighting back by utilizing their most obvious asset: teachers.

Backed by tens of millions in cash and new data mining tools that let them personalize pitches to voters, the unions are sending armies of educators to run a huge get-out-the-vote effort aimed at reversing the red tide that swept Republicans into power across the country in 2010.

as they gear up for the most intense and focused mobilization efforts they have ever attempted, they believe it’s their members who will give them an edge. Americans may be frustrated with public schools and wary of unions, but polls still show respect and admiration for teachers.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. But then Simon exposes the unions’ hypocrisy, with a load of hubris tossed in for good measure.

Union leaders like to frame the political battleground as a David vs. Goliath affair. They speak with pride about their working-class members, armed only with clipboards and comfy sneakers, going up against corporate titans of immense wealth and power.

The unions portraying themselves as “David” is either a flight of fancy, a bald-faced lie or maybe they have developed a deeply ironic sense of humor.

For example, in June, the National Education Association – alluding to the aforementioned corporate titans – lectured us about the ‘corrosive influence’ of Super PACs.

Super PACs have been roundly criticized for their lack of disclosure and their ability to accept unlimited donations from corporations, thereby making it more difficult for ordinary Americans to have a say in the electoral process. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling made it legal for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal elections. The court’s decision opened the door to the creation of Super PACs.

Attempting to motor down the moral high road has never been a good idea for the teachers unions. As Mike Antonucci reports,

… During the second quarter of 2014, the Democratic Governors Association received $13.8 million, most of it from labor unions and $2,260,000 from NEA and AFT alone.

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. (Emphasis added.)

So, Super PACs are bad except when they are union Super PACs.

Then there was the little dust-up in New York City, where the American Federation of Teachers has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Less than a month before Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a contract deal with the United Federation of Teachers, its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $350,000 to a nonprofit group that is run by de Blasio advisers and lobbies on behalf of the mayor’s priorities, newly released records show.

… News of the timing of the teachers’ union gift raised questions among good-government organizations about the ability of outside interests to advance their agendas before the city by supporting a lobbying arm of the mayor.

AFT did its best to shove the whole thing under the rug, claiming that “the donation was part of the union’s longstanding support of government-funded pre-kindergarten.” And of course, de Blasio’s people denied any impropriety, intimating that it was just one big coincidence. But Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, wasn’t buying it. “It’s an awfully large donation to make in the final stages of labor negotiations. And these groups doing business with the city – while they make these donations – is [a situation] just riddled with conflicts.” He went on to tell the New York Post: “To have a newly elected mayor start a nonprofit organization to support his big initiative – and then go calling for dollars from those who are involved in the city’s business – is unseemly.”

AFT would like us to believe that there was no scent of a quid pro quo that the union wound up with an unprecedented nine year contact which included an 18 percent raise for teachers. “Unseemly” doesn’t begin to cover it.

AFT’s “hubrocrisy” also reared its ugly head in Massachusetts. The union claims to deplore the concept of “dark money” in politics and rail against all who engage in it. Well, everyone but themselves apparently. In Boston, a mysterious $480,000 ad buy in the fall helped propel Martin J. Walsh to mayoral victory over John R. Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous path, was a gift from the AFT.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s NEA affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.”

The two national teachers unions spend between $100 and $200 million on politics every year and they are so good at hiding their über generous “gifts” that no one can be sure just what the real number is. One thing is certain – however tall their mountain of money, it’s still dwarfed by their endless supply of “hubrocrisy.”

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.

The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

NEA and AFT leaders cavil at Supreme Court decision that eases rules on political funding.

Nothing gives me an advanced case of the vapors quicker than the subject of political campaign finance laws. Trying to figure out who can give how much to whom and when, and how many dollars can be donated to a PAC, who is allowed to involve themselves in “dark money” and who has to report what are matters that are more confounding than trying to follow anything Harry Reid says. (Okay, that would actually be a close call.)

In any event, last week the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. While this doesn’t seem to be a radical move to me, the SCOTUS ruling did not please everyone. And perhaps the unhappiest of all were the nation’s teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a press release harrumphing:

With this ruling, the voices of everyday Americans have gotten squashed again. We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections. (Emphasis added.)

The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.

Ms. Weingarten is guilty of uttering two tired union conceits: she trots out “our children” and then blasts the “most powerful and influential” from her perch atop one of the “most powerful and influential” organizations in the country.

In a rare occurrence, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel out-demagogued his AFT counterpart in his official statement on the decision:

America’s working families lost today when the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission effectively removed meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. The ruling creates yet another loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties, candidates and multi-candidate PACs.

At a time when the lop-sided playing field unfairly benefits the haves over the have-nots, the McCutcheon decision opens the floodgates even further for corporations and the monied elite to dominate our democracy. The majority opinion goes on to strike down aggregate limits that only prevent the very richest in our society from contributing to every campaign they would like and, thereby, dominating the political discourse.

Our country was founded on the premise that democracy is not for sale. No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires. Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision guts America’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Reality-averse, Van Roekel ignores the fact that his own union is a special interest that:

a) takes advantage of “loopholes.”

b)  is a “monied elite.”

c)  dominates “the political discourse.”

d)  benefits from “Citizens United.”

The union bosses’ statements can be summed up in three simple words. “It’s not fair.” To which I say, “Is too.” (And by the way, you two, the whining is quite disingenuous.) What follows are just a few little things that should disabuse anyone of believing that these unions are selfless guardians of the disenfranchised.

The NEA and AFT combine to bring in over $550 million a year in dues. Then, as unions, they get to duck paying a penny of income tax on that half billion plus dollars.

And just what do they do with all this money? They spend a lot of it on politics. In fact, NEA is ranked #3 nationally on Open Secrets heavy-hitter list. From 1989-2014, NEA spent $58,783,738 on candidates, PACs, etc. AFT comes in at #12, spending $37,039,075 during the same 25 year period. But if you combine the two teachers unions’ political gifting they come in second, spending almost $96 million between them.

It’s important to note that these dollar amounts do not include money spent on politics by the national unions’ state and local affiliates. For example, the California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the Golden State, unleashed $290 million on politics from 2000-2013.

What the unions don’t broadcast is that much of the money they bring in is not given willingly by teachers. In 26 states and D.C., teachers must pay tribute to the union if they want to teach in a public school. (Yes, there are ways for teachers to wriggle out of the part of dues that goes to politics, but the unions make it very difficult to do so. And the lawyers of a recent lawsuit make a legitimate case that just about everything these unions do inherently involves “controversial and important political and ideological issues.”)

Also, the union leaders’ faux populism reveals itself in the destination of its largesse. According to an internal poll, NEA found that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Does the union’s spending reflect this diversity?

Hardly. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And AFT is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right of center candidates.

So when Van Roekel complains that, “No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires,” I guess he only means Democrat teachers, nurses, etc.   

The bottom line is that good people can disagree as to how best to reform our arcane campaign finance laws. But until the teachers unions begin to comport themselves with decency, honesty, and fairness, they don’t deserve anything but our scorn. 

As Kevin Williamson wrote in NRO, “This isn’t about getting rich guys out of politics — it’s about the NEA and the AFT keeping competition off the field.” And to the consternation of NEA/CTA, the Supreme Court decision will hopefully make that field just a bit more level.

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.

Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

The next, next Citizens United
By Reid Wilson, October 15, 2013, Washington Post
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case many — including my GovBeat colleague Niraj — have dubbed the next Citizens United. McCutcheon challenges the government-set aggregate limits on how much an individual can contribute to federal candidates. It’s the latest salvo in a coordinated drive by conservative lawyers to undermine campaign finance reforms. And those conservative lawyers aren’t waiting for McCutcheon to be decided before they tee up their next assault — this time on rules against corporations contributing to candidates. Last week, Indiana attorney Jim Bopp Jr., on behalf of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review Iowa’s ban on political contributions by corporations. Bopp says Iowa’s rules, which allow labor unions to give but prohibit corporations from donating to candidates, violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, along with the right to free speech. “There’s a really important fairness issue here,” Bopp said in an interview. “Targeting corporations and permitting unions betrays a real partisan agenda, and if we’re going to have these kinds of laws, they’re going to have to, in my view, treat corporations and unions similarly.” (read article)

California construction unions get two big wins
By Dan Walters, October 15, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Union membership among California’s private employers has been on a downward slide for decades – with two notable exceptions. As health care, already California’s largest economic sector, continues to grow, unions of hospital and other medical workers continue to expand. Union membership also remains strong in the “building trades,” particularly among companies that bid on public works projects, thanks to an 82-year-old state law called “prevailing wage.” In essence, it requires contractors on such projects to pay union wages to carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other tradesmen. And it is the core of a perpetual political struggle in the Capitol as the State Building & Construction Trades Council defends it and attempts to expand its reach, doing battle with local governments, nonunion contractors and other foes. With a new president, Robbie Hunter, at the helm, a Democratic governor and big Democratic majorities in the Legislature, the construction union organization made a high-octane push in the Capitol this year. And when Gov. Jerry Brown had finished passing judgment, it had scored two big wins and one relatively small loss. Brown signed a bill (Senate Bill 7) that circumvents a state Supreme Court decision and punishes cities with independent governing charters that exempt themselves from prevailing wage laws by denying them state public works funds. It was, interestingly, a significant departure from Brown’s oft-voiced support of “subsidiarity,” the principle that locally elected officials should have maximum discretion to make decisions for their constituents. Brown also signed a bill (SB 54) that will extend prevailing wage requirements to private refinery construction, and also give union tradesmen first dibs on refinery jobs, elbowing aside members of the refinery workers union. And it represents a new front in the prevailing wage issue – whether it should be extended to private, as well as public, projects. (read article)

BART strike: Trains running today as talks continue
By Mike Rosenberg, October 15, 2013, San Jose Mercury News
BART trains are running this morning after the transit system’s unions and management negotiated through the night, averting a strike. Negotiations continued past the 11:59 p.m. strike deadline, though no deal is in place. At about 5:30 this morning, federal mediator George Cohen said both sides were taking a break and will be returning to the bargaining table this afternoon. At about 1 a.m. Cohen said both sides had made “substantial progress” but declined to elaborate. It was unclear whether another strike would be threatened for Wednesday or later. “We apologize (that) the Bay Area continues to have to wait until the middle of the night to find out if union leadership will allow the trains to run each morning,” BART said in a statement early Tuesday. “We hope we can get this situation resolved quickly so the uncertainty can come to an end.” At 5:35 a.m., Cohen announced both sides were taking a break for a few hours. Management and BART’s two large labor unions faced an 11:59 p.m. deadline that came and went. An hour later, Cohen emerged from the closed-door talks with the good news for hundreds of thousands of sleepy commuters who had stayed up awaiting word of a possible strike. Unions had continued to threaten a strike throughout the day. Later in the night, however, the unions had presented a last-second counter-offer that management was reviewing. Details of the proposal were kept under wraps, but Pete Castelli, executive director of the local Service Employees International Union, said: “We did make movement.” (read article)

Union voter effort in full swing in Boston mayor’s race
By Beth Healy, October 15, 2013, Boston Globe
Few in Boston were thinking about the mayor’s race on a sun-streaked afternoon in mid-August. But that did not stop 300 union workers from taking to the streets of Hyde Park, carrying campaign signs and knocking on doors until dark. They were hotel workers, nurses, and builders — not natural allies in terms of income, neighborhood, or line of work. But they showed up en masse that day for Martin Walsh, a state representative and former union construction worker who would come from behind and win more votes than any of his 11 rivals in the preliminary election. That was only a taste of what labor leaders hope to deliver by Nov. 5. With the race now in full swing, and narrowed to Walsh and Councilor John Connolly, efforts to get out the union vote are ramping up. At least 40,000 union workers are registered to vote, from home health care aides to teachers, labor organizers estimate. That’s about 11 percent of total voters in Boston. “We fought a really great fight, but we didn’t have everybody yet,’’ said Richard Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council. “We’re going to really focus on union members that stayed home in the first round.’’ (read article)

VW eyes German answer to UAW fight
Omaha World-Herald, October 15, 2013
The faceoff between Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers over organizing the company’s new plant in Tennessee is rapidly becoming a global clash of cultures. For months, the UAW has been trying hard to get recognition by Volkswagen to represent workers at its prized assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The effort has unleashed a groundswell of pro- and anti- union sentiment. While some workers are eager for the UAW to come in, state officials and right-to-work groups are just as determined to stop Detroit’s brand of unionism. Now Volkswagen and its German labor leaders are proposing a solution that is commonplace in Europe but has yet to be tried in the U.S. auto industry. The senior labor representative at Volkswagen in Germany, Bernd Osterloh, is planning a trip to the United States to suggest a compromise in what has become a heated battle over the UAW’s relentless drive to organize a foreign-owned auto plant in the American South. He is expected to push for a German-style works council in the plant — a committee of hourly and salaried employees that gives labor a voice at the management table. A works council is not like an U.S. union, which can negotiate contracts and authorize strikes. But it does have the advantage of being a familiar form of labor relations for a German car company like VW. The larger question is whether a works council can satisfy employees and politicians in Tennessee — and give the UAW a foothold in the growing Southern auto industry. (read article)

UAW battles Nissan over union at Mississippi plant
G. Chambers Williams, October 14, 2013, The Tennessean
The United Auto Workers union has taken a page from its organizing efforts at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in its ongoing campaign to unionize Nissan’s Canton, Miss., workers, turning to the automaker’s international unions to help put pressure on the company. To support the UAW’s efforts, Nissan’s unions in such places as Brazil and South Africa will be picketing the automaker’s dealerships in those nations to inform consumers of the UAW’s charges that Nissan isn’t playing fair in the Mississippi drive. “This is not the same kind of campaign we’ve done in the past,” said Gary Casteel, district director of the UAW’s District 8, based in Lebanon. “After we approached Nissan about giving us a fair election, which they didn’t do, we told them we would pursue this on a global level, and that’s what we’ve slowly been doing. “They play in other world markets where they interact with unions and act like they’re a fair company,” he said. “But here they don’t want to give employees a fair election.” Although the UAW also is getting union support from outside the United States in its efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant, there is a key difference: Volkswagen has largely cooperated with the American union and has even hosted talks with UAW officials at its Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters. Where Volkswagen has been neutral, or even helpful, in the UAW’s Chattanooga campaign, the union says Nissan has been the opposite, actively opposing union representation in Canton and warning workers there of “dire consequences” if they choose to affiliate with the UAW, Casteel said. (read article)

Prevailing wage law could raise costs
By Michael Gardner, October 14, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune
Some charter cities in San Diego County and across California will have to either pay generally higher wages for public works projects or forego state grants that help cover construction costs for everything from new roads to water mains. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation pushed by labor unions that puts charter cities in the position of having to make that call when signing contracts after Jan. 1, 2015. Brown’s signature may foreshadow yet another legal battle with Vista and other cities over the constitutional rights of those municipalities that have more independence from the state’s reach than other general-law cities. The new law will affect seven charter cities in San Diego County: Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos, Chula Vista, Carlsbad, Santee and El Cajon. San Diego is a charter city but is exempt after adopting in July a prevailing wage ordinance to pay rates generally in line with union scale. (read article)

Party for sale? California’s Republicans bailed out by unions
By Shirley Husar, October 14, 2013, Washington Times
California’s unions have positioned themselves for a perpetual power grab against the political parties. To this end, they are attempting to achieve a stranglehold on political contributions, making their money the most important money that either party can receive. The dead hand of government dependency weighs heavy on California’s politics. California’s Democrats have nearly obliterated the Republicans on their triumphant march to a welfare state. This is dangerous for the unions, whose support of Democrats is unnecessary if Democrats face no organized opposition. They are therefore uniting to prop up the GOP and keep the war going. Giving money to the GOP helps prevent a Democratic political monopoly, holding the Republicans up as a threat to Democratic power that will never actually materialize. So why would the California GOP sell out to the Service Employees International Union – the SEIU? On October 4-6, 2013, the California Republican Party (CRP or CAGOP) held its Fall Convention at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel. This year’s theme, under the direction of newly elected Chairman Jim Brulte, was “Building from the ground up.” For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This year, the CRP Fall Convention set the tone for big changes in the Party. But do these changes include partnership with the SEIU? Has California’s GOP sold itself by taking money from SEIU? (read article)

Unions poised to win delay of ObamaCare tax in budget deal (Video)
By Elise Viebeck, October 14, 2013, The Hill
Labor unions are poised to score the delay of an ObamaCare tax in the bipartisan budget deal emerging in the Senate. The bargain under negotiation would make small adjustments to the healthcare law, including delaying the law’s reinsurance fee for one year. The three-year tax is meant to generate revenue that will stabilize premiums on the individual market as sick patients enter the risk pool. The tax applies to all group health plans, but unions argue it will raise their healthcare costs while providing them no benefit. The reinsurance tax figured prominently in discussions at a recent AFL-CIO convention, where workers passed a resolution demanding changes to ObamaCare. The White House recently denied labor’s top priority on ObamaCare, ruling that union health plans are not eligible for the new subsidies because they are already helped by the tax code. Democrats could be pushing to delay the reinsurance fee for one year as an olive branch after that apparent slight, though it could also create trouble for insurers on the marketplaces. The possible Senate deal would raise the nation’s debt ceiling until mid-February, immediately reopen the government and provide funding until Jan. 15. It remains to be seen if House Republicans will accept a package that does little to thwart ObamaCare. The emerging Senate deal defies several expectations when it comes to the healthcare law. It does nothing to delay or end a new tax on medical devices, for example — a move that appeared to be gaining momentum earlier in the week. The 2.3 percent tax, which has opposition in both parties, is expected to generate about $30 billion in revenue for ObamaCare over the next 10 years. (read article)

BART, unions still can’t agree on labor contract; strike averted one more day
October 14, 2013, Progressive Railroading
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) services will remain operational today after the agency’s two largest unions announced last night that they would not launch a strike while contract negotiations continued on Monday. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 late last week issued a 72-hour notice that indicated if weekend talks didn’t result in a new contract by midnight Sunday, they would go on strike starting on Monday. Although union officials are disappointed and frustrated with the lack of an agreement after “marathon negotiations” this weekend, a strike will not be launched while talks continue for one more day, said SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli in a prepared statement. A media gag order issued by a mediator wouldn’t allow him to reveal specifics on the issues dividing the two sides, Castelli said. BART, unions still can’t agree on labor contract; strike averted one more day. (read article)

Worker Centers: A Backdoor for Unions
By Richard Berman, October 14, 2013, US News and World Report
The way the country’s labor officials tell it, federal labor laws are insufficient for the 21st century. They’re absolutely right – but not for the reasons they claim. Labor leaders were actually for the country’s labor laws before they were against them. That was when the labor movement boasted 35 percent of the private sector workforce in the 1950s. It’s only since then that they’ve turned on the same laws, which were unable to prevent them from sliding to their current near-century low of 6.6 percent of the workforce. That decline can’t be blamed on labor laws, however. Rather, it’s the labor movement itself that no longer appeals to the American employee. Nobody’s buying what unions are selling. Unions have effectively undercut their own brand. What once made them so appealing was their promise of a better workplace. Fast forward to today, when much of what unions once fought for is now regulated by the federal government. From workplace safety to anti-discrimination and health care, the wrongs against which labor has historically fought have almost all been righted. As a result, unions now have little to offer their members. Their dues are still high, but their value is low. Yet labor leaders are desperate to hang on to power and a well-paying job and to protect their own $24 billion industry. That’s why they’re trying to hijack employee rights by circumventing labor laws. Unions have recently exploited a legal loophole in federal law by establishing so-called “worker centers.” These are unregulated union front groups that avoid federal labor laws by registering as nonprofits and charities. The most prominent groups are the “Fight for $15,” backed by the Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide strikes at fast-food restaurants, and “OUR Walmart,” which is a thinly-veiled attempt by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to unionize retailers. (read article)

Barnidge: Tired of BART labor unrest? Here’s a new problem to take its place
By Tom Barnidge, October 14, 2013, Contra Costa Times
If you’re tired of reading about unhappy BART employees and contentious labor negotiations, you’ve come to the right place. Today’s subject is unhappy Contra Costa County employees and contentious labor negotiations. You can thank Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21, representing more than 800 midlevel county managers, for bringing this matter to our attention in a succinctly worded news release: “Contra Costa Employees May Strike over Unaffordable Healthcare Plans.” The timing of the threat is curious — perhaps the union envied the attention lavished on BART — because negotiations began more than a year ago, and employees have worked without a contract for three months. The issue is easier to grasp: The county’s contribution toward health care premiums has been capped by contractual agreement since 2009, even as inflation has sent costs skyward. The union reports that employees’ outlay for a Kaiser Family Plan has increased from $246 to $607 per month. (“Contra Costa has the most expensive health care plan in the Bay Area offered by public employers,” said union spokesman Sean Alten.) Public Employees Union Local 1, representing 2,000 rank-and-file county employees, doubtless would agree. It’s been operating under the same terms and also seeks a new deal. “The problem,” said Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, “is we don’t have the money.” The reason health care contributions were capped — and many salaries cut or frozen — is the county has fought for years to keep from drowning in red ink. Only recently have property tax revenues nudged upward. “We’re now at a point where we’re structurally sound,” Mitchoff said, “but we don’t have anything extra to give. I get the feeling that employees are saying, ‘We’re not as bad off as we were, so give us everything.'” (read article)

Jerry Brown vetoes bill to give Medi-Cal interpreters union rights
By David Siders, October 13, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have given thousands of Medi-Cal interpreters the right to join a public employee union and bargain collectively with the state. Assembly Bill 1263, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, would have established a certification process and registry of medical interpreters, a measure proponents said would better regulate a service that is critical to patients who do not speak English. But the bill was also significant to labor unions that believe implementation of the federal healthcare overhaul will result in a wave of new patients and medical professionals they hoped to add to their union ranks. The Democratic governor avoided the matter of collective bargaining in his veto message, focusing only on the bureaucracy a new certification process would require. “California has embarked on an unprecedented expansion to add more than a million people to our Medi-Cal program,” he wrote. “Given the challenges and the many unknowns the state faces in this endeavor, I don’t believe it would be wise to introduce yet another complex element.” The legislation was backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and opposed by the National Right to Work Committee. (read article)

Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber eyes divisive ballot measures
By Hannah Hoffman, Oct. 13, 2013, Statesman Journal
Gov. John Kitzhaber is negotiating to keep two sets of inflammatory initiatives from becoming ballot measures in 2014 so they don’t threaten his plans to reform the state’s tax system in 2015. “The governor has been working to get all the divisive measures off the ballot in 2014 and is working to get business and labor collaborating on a set of issues in the broader interest of the state,” said Kitzhaber’s spokesman Tim Raphael. One set of three initiatives would effectively turn Oregon into a “right to work” state. They would apply only to public employment, but public unions are larger and more well organized in Oregon than private sector unions. One of the ballot initiatives, called the “Public Employees Choice Act,” would allow public employees to work in union-represented positions without joining the union. They would receive all the benefits and representation the union provides but would not have to pay dues. The other two would forbid the state from collecting union dues or political donations through members’ paychecks, which would make it hard to collect dues at all. Similar laws have been passed across the country in recent years, most notably in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Democrats almost universally oppose these laws, as they say “right to work” laws erode unions’ power and workers’ protections. The other set of initiatives would raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. They were all filed by Patrick Green, long-time executive director of Our Oregon, a coalition of left-leaning groups, including nearly all Oregon’s prominent unions. Raphael said Kitzhaber is working to keep all of these off the ballot because he wants both sides working together by the time 2015 rolls around, not torn apart by a nasty campaign over union funding or substantial tax increases. (read article)

Police union leader says deficit was much lower
By Ignazio Messina, October 13, 2013, Toledo Blade
The president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association said on Saturday that he still doesn’t buy what Mayor Mike Bell is selling regarding the 2010 budget crisis. In short, Dan Wagner said he doesn’t really believe there was a $48 million deficit in 2010 that required his and other city labor unions to take wage and benefit cuts as dictated by Mayor Bell then. Mayor Bell has said repeatedly that he faced a $48 million deficit when he took office in January, 2010, thanks to more than $8 million in red ink left over from 2009 and another $40 million in overestimated and nonexistent revenue proposed in the 2010 budget that former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner left him. D. Michael Collins, a city councilman and mayoral challenger this year has repeatedly contested Mayor Bell’s number, claiming that he and his staff are grossly exaggerating the deficit he had to deal with in 2010 and that he is taking too much credit for putting the city’s financial house in order. Mr. Wagner, president of the TPPA, which is one of many unions that have endorsed Mr. Collins, said the debate is a matter of semantics. “Obviously, we understood there was a carryover deficit,” Mr. Wagner said. “When we sat down with Bell, when he asked us for a figure [in concessions], it was consistent with about a $9 million deficit.” Mayor Bell, a former unionized city firefighter, was not able to convince city labor unions in 2010 —except his former union, Local 92 Firefighters — to agree to wage and benefit concessions to help him balance the budget and avoid police and fire layoffs. (read article)

Obamacare Complicates UFCW Talks; Seattle Workers on Brink of Strike
By Bruce Vail, October 11, 2013, In These Times
With hundreds of federal government offices closed down in a Republican Party bid to eliminate or scale back the Affordable Care Act, more than 40,000 grocery union members in the states of Washington and New York are facing Obamacare crises of their own. Labor contracts covering members of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in both the Seattle and New York City areas are set to expire in a matter of days, but talks to renew the agreements appear deadlocked over the issue of healthcare costs, union representatives say. In both cases, labor and management have been locked in difficult negotiations for months with Obamacare-related health insurance issues said to be the primary issue. “We are preparing for a strike” unless Seattle supermarket operators come forward with an acceptable contract offer by the end of this week, UFCW Local 21 spokesperson Tom Geiger tells Working In These Times. A total of 30,000 grocery workers across the Seattle metropolitan area stand ready to hit the picket lines at four separate supermarket chains that are united in demanding health care cuts, wage freezes and other give backs, Geiger says. Last week rank-and-file members voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike, he reports. The grocery chains Safeway and Albertsons, along with Fred Meyer and QFC (subsidiaries of Kroger Co., the largest supermarket owner in the country), are seeking to eliminate healthcare coverage for a total of 8,000 union members who work 30 hours or less per week, citing the Obamacare provision that says employers are not required to cover part-timers, according to Geiger. (read article)

Shutdown Ad Campaign By Union Targets Republicans
By Sam Stein, October 11, 2013, Huffington Post
Upping the stakes of the government shutdown, one of the largest U.S. labor unions is unveiling a six-figure ad campaign on Friday that accuses Tea Party members of Congress of facilitating the breakdown of government. The campaign, spearheaded by the National Education Association, will include television and online ads that will air in Washington and other markets. The targets, according to a union release, include Reps. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). The ad wars over the shutdown have so far been somewhat muted, likely because it was impossible to predict how long it would last. But with the standoff now well into its second week and likely heading towards its third — and with polls showing Republican lawmakers vulnerable — it appears that interest groups like NEA are ready to pounce. (read article)

Rhode Island labor board schedules childcare union vote
By Katherine Gregg, October 11, 2013, Providence Journal
The State Labor Relations Board has scheduled a vote on the bid by the Service Employees International Union to represent upwards of 540 childcare providers, working out of their homes, in first-ever negotiations with the state over reimbursement rates and benefits.
In mailings that went out late Thursday, the labor board put the providers on notice — in English and Spanish — of the dates, times and locations where they can vote on the SEIU union drive between Saturday, Oct. 26, and Wednesday, Oct. 30. The labor board also promises to have a Spanish interpreter at all election sites. The ballot count will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31, at the labor board’s office at 1511 Pontiac Avenue, Building 73, in the state office complex in Cranston. There was some back-and-forth with the two state agencies that administer the childcare subsidy program over the number eligible to vote. But in the end, the number was narrowed to the 542 childcare providers receiving state subsidies between March 1 and Aug. 30, 2013. The official “notice of election” puts the providers on notice they will have to show a picture identification card in order to vote. It also assures them that: “Voters shall be allowed to vote without interference or coercion … [and] electioneering will not be permitted at or near the voting places.” (read article)

Anchorage assemblyman seeks repeal of labor law
By Nathaniel Herz, October 10, 2013, Anchorage Daily News
The municipal assembly could give a second look to an Anchorage labor law that stirred unions into collecting signatures to repeal it. Assemblyman Dick Traini on Wednesday introduced a measure to have the assembly repeal the law that limits raises for municipal workers and standardizes benefits across unions. The law introduced by Mayor Dan Sullivan and two assembly members was approved 6-5 in March but could have a different fate if reconsidered. Assemblyman Bill Starr, a supporter eight months ago, asked to be a co-sponsor of the repeal. Another supporter, Assemblyman Evan Trombley, said he could “potentially get behind” a repeal, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The mayor could not be reached for comment Thursday. City unions collected more than 22,000 signatures in support of the referendum to repeal the measure. The city is challenging a judge’s ruling that the referendum is legal. (read article)

Washington unions pushing $15-an-hour wage don’t practice what they preach
By Shelby Sebens, October 10, 2013, Northwest Watchdog
Unions in Washington state backing a $15-an-hour minimum wage ordinance in SeaTac don’t pay their own employees as well the law would require, a study by the Freedom Foundation finds. The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Washington, released the study Thursday, claiming that seven state unions fail to live up to the standards set in a ballot measure that will ask SeaTac residents in November if employers in and around the SeaTac airport should be forced to pay employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour. (read article)

Labor disputes land like 1-2 punch in Boston mayor’s race
By Andrew Ryan, October 10, 2013, Boston Globe
First, it was an arbitrator’s finding that the police patrol union deserved a pay hike that the city says amounts to 25 percent. Then, the union representing Boston’s school bus drivers walked out for a day, stranding thousands of children. The two simmering labor disputes, erupting in the middle of a heated race for mayor, cast a spotlight on state Representative Martin J. Walsh, the longtime union leader turned mayoral candidate. Walsh’s union ties have caused some political foes to question whether he can stand up to labor. But Walsh and his supporters see the unanticipated events of the past two weeks as a prime opportunity to demonstrate his ability to lead Boston’s workforce as mayor. For voters, the emergence of the labor issues provides a chance to compare and contrast Walsh with his opponent, Councilor John R. Connolly. The next mayor will inherit a $2.6 billion budget that dedicates two-thirds of spending to wages, pensions, and health insurance. (read article)

Volkswagen German Labor Leader Says Tennessee Workers Should Vote on UAW
By Neal E. Boudette and Christine Tierney, October 9, 2013, Wall Street Journal
A German union leader on Volkswagen AG VOW3.XE +0.14% ‘s supervisory board says union representation at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant shouldn’t come without a vote—a position that could complicate the United Auto Workers’ effort to gain a foothold at the factory. The UAW, as part of a broader effort to organize nonunion auto factories in the southern U.S., says it has collected signed union cards from more than half of the 2,000 production workers at the VW plant. The UAW has signaled it would prefer Volkswagen management to accept the union as its bargaining partner without a secret ballot election by workers, a path allowed under U.S. labor law. Wednesday, a senior UAW official said the union is open to working with Volkswagen to form a new, less confrontational labor-management relationship than it has with Detroit’s unionized auto makers. “This is a new model of representation,” said Gary Casteel, an organizer spearheading the UAW’s drive to organize the Chattanooga plant. He also said any decision on UAW representation at the plant could require approval of staffers in a secret-ballot vote, but any decision about a vote would come in the future. Bernd Osterloh , an employee representative on Volkswagen’s supervisory board, which is the equivalent of a board of directors at a U.S. company, said it supports creation of a “works council” to negotiate workplace conditions with management at the Tennessee factory, but he also appears to call for a vote on the issue. “Democracy does not end at the plant gates,” Mr. Osterloh said in the statement. “This principle is not negotiable.” Mr. Osterloh’s statement, released last Friday in Germany, marked one of the few times he has offered extensive comments on the UAW’s effort to unionize the Chattanooga plant, which Volkswagen opened in 2011. (read article)

Beware the ‘Worker Centers’
By Richard Berman, October 10, 2013, The Hill
The AFL-CIO left its quadrennial convention a different organization than when it entered. During the confab, the federation voted near unanimously to offer membership to non-union organizations known as “worker centers”—a move ostensibly meant to show that the labor movement has finally joined the 21st century.
Not so fast. Worker centers are actually nothing more than labor unions by a different name—and thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, they’re able to employ old strategies using new tactics that would otherwise be illegal. Worker centers are nothing new; some have been around for decades. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), for example, has been pestering high-profile restaurants in New York City since 2002, while the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been making demands on restaurants and grocery stores since 2005. But where worker centers like ROC and CIW were once oddities, they are now becoming commonplace. Overall, the number of worker centers in the United States has skyrocketed from five in the early 1990s to over 230 today. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka has singled them out for praise, saying they “open up union membership and make the benefits of representation available to all workers.” What makes worker centers so attractive to union leaders like Trumka is that they don’t fall under the purview of either the National Labor Relations Act or the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the two laws designed to balance the competing interests of unions, employees, and businesses. (read article)

UAW seeks Mississippi pawns in global effort to slow union’s decline
By Sid Salter, October 9, 2013, Hattiesburg American
As noted in prior columns on this topic, the United Auto Workers is digging in for a global battle for the survival of the declining union and the epicenter of the fight is Canton, Mississippi’s Nissan plant. The New York Times this week produced a sweeping account of the UAW’s strategies in Mississippi and linked those strategies to a global effort to force Nissan to knuckle under to union organizers. The Times outlined an unprecedented union organization push that will attempt to rely on global leverage against Nissan as well as the interjection of “civil rights” into the debate. “The union has also helped create a group of students and community and religious leaders, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, which includes the NAACP,” according to the newspaper. “The alliance often uses the slogan, ‘Labor Rights Are Civil Rights.’” In addition, the newspaper reported that the UAW “has sent a team of Mississippi ministers and workers to South Africa, where Nissan has an assembly plant, to try to embarrass the company with accusations that it violates workers’ rights at the Canton plant.” If a labor union is looking for a backdrop from which to try to establish linkage between civil rights and union rights, Mississippi’s history offers optics. But the less than subtle attempt to interject racial overtones into a unionization fight is reprehensible. (read article)

Postal Workers Elect New Leaders Who Pledge to Build a Movement
By Alexandra Bradbury, October 9, 2013, Labor Notes
A diverse slate of local leaders pledging to take a firmer hand with management, increase transparency about contract details, collaborate with other postal unions and community groups, and mobilize members has just won national leadership of the American Postal Workers Union. The Members First Team, headed by now President-Elect Mark Dimondstein, won seven of the nine seats it contested, the APWU announced last night. The stakes couldn’t be higher for postal workers, who are battling wave after wave of attacks—post offices and sorting plants closing, work privatizing, delivery standards eroding. The latest nasty bill pending in Congress would kill Saturday letter delivery, replace door-to-door with curbside and neighborhood “cluster box” service, and ban workers’ time-honored no-layoff clause from future contracts. “We’re at a crossroads,” said Dimondstein before the election. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.” (read article)

California labor union feud lands on Brown’s desk
By Dan Walters, October 9, 2013, Sacramento Bee
It’s certainly not unusual for conflicts between business and labor to be played out in the Capitol. It is, however, very unusual for conflicts between two labor unions to reach the Capitol. And one such duel now presents Gov. Jerry Brown with a dilemma. The state’s building trades unions – carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. – sponsored legislation that would require construction work on oil refineries to be done by a “skilled and trained workforce.” Coming in the wake of a disastrous fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, that requirement doesn’t sound unreasonable from the standpoint of public safety. Public safety, in fact, is the official rationale for Senate Bill 54 from its author, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and its sponsors. But, as with all such bills, the devil is in the details, and in this case, the definition of a “skilled and trained workforce” involves very detailed specifications of apprenticeship programs. And those specifications, not surprisingly, exactly mirror the programs operated by State Building and Construction Trades Council’s member unions. The effect of the legislation, which gained heavy support from the Legislature’s majority Democrats, apparently would be to exclude members of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 5,000 refinery workers in the state. The USW has, therefore, mounted a campaign to persuade Brown to veto the bill. (read article)

How the NAACP Got Involved in Nissan’s Mississippi Union Battle
By Christina Rogers and Neal E. Boudette, October 8, 2013, Wall Street Journal
For years, the United Auto Workers union has largely struck out on its own in trying to organize the South’s foreign-owned car plants, but with no success. Now, it’s enlisting some help from the outside. The latest case in point came Tuesday when the NAACP weighed in to lend support in the UAW’s push to unionize a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. The civil rights organization issued a 47-page report that alleged Nissan is obstructing efforts by Canton employees to build support for the union. Specifically, the report, which was funded by the UAW, claims that Nissan managers pressure workers not to side with the union, routinely suggest the plant could close or cut production if the work force unionizes and prevents UAW organizers from meeting workers inside the factory. Nissan denied the charges, saying in a statement that its managers routinely meet with employees to discuss “matters pertinent to our business.” It added that the report “is neither objective nor credible” and that Nissan has never violated labor standards” and “continue to abide by U.S. labor laws and support the rights of employees to decide whether they wish to be represented by a union.” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP’s Mississippi branch, said the organization got involved because it got calls from workers at the Canton, Miss. plant expressing concerns about Nissan’s management practices. He also added that historically the right to organize and the civil rights movement have been intertwined. “For anyone who questions whether or not it is the role of the NAACP to do what we’re doing today, I say yes it is,” Mr. Johnson said during a press conference in Washington. But the involvement of the NAACP reflects the new reality for the UAW: in its drive to unionize foreign-owned auto plants in the South, it needs help to press its case, which is becoming an increasingly international one. (read article)


National Education Association Admits Things Will Never Be the Same

The nation’s biggest union finds itself in a big hole and keeps digging.

In his excellent book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and Americas Public Schools, published a little more than a year ago, Terry Moe posited that the teachers unions would meet their end via two routes – Democrats joining Republicans, thus making education reform a bipartisan issue and the overwhelming, inevitable ascendance of online learning. Though no timetable was set forth by Moe, he didn’t think this was going to happen in 2012. However about a month ago, Mike Antonucci’s weekly Communiqué had some very pointed words from the National Education Association.

After a year of unprecedented membership losses driven by economic stresses and political attacks, the National Education Association stands at a crossroads. Unlike in the past, our shrinking membership is not the sole product of a down economy from which we could expect to eventually recover. The forces impacting us are so strong that they have indelibly changed our industry, the educational system, and society at large. Things will never go back to the way they were. Attacks on collective bargaining and the role of the union, the nation’s changing demographics, education reform efforts, and an explosion in the use of education technology and online learning have radically changed the role of educators and the system of educating our nation’s students.

NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen was quoted as saying, “Times have been bad before, but they’ve never been this bad.”

How bad? Greg Toppo reports in USA Today,

The National Education Association (NEA) has lost more than 100,000 members since 2010. By 2014, union projections show, it could lose a cumulative total of about 308,000 full-time teachers and other workers, a 16% drop from 2010. Lost dues will shrink NEA’s budget an estimated $65 million, or 18%.

We now see that Moe’s words were indeed prophetic. The NEA admits they are in big trouble and are getting it from all ends. They are losing members, hemorrhaging money and the education empire they run in most states is alienating the public. A Gallup poll released in June found,

Americans’ confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup’s 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.

So are we going to see a kinder and gentler teachers union? Are we going to be blessed with a union that really cares about kids, and not just indulges in lip service?

Let’s look first at NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s speech at the NEA yearly convention which just wrapped up in Washington D.C. He extolled the virtues of early childhood education. “The importance of early childhood education is obvious. The research is clear.”

Yes indeed, the research is clear, but it doesn’t support Van Roekel’s assertion. Study after study shows that early childhood education (the most popular program being Head Start) has absolutely no lasting positive effect on children. (It does provide more unionized teaching jobs, however.)

A bit later he went political and said, “We must do everything we can to reelect President Barack Obama!”

Did Van Roekel stop to think that not all his membership reflects the solidly left wing NEA leadership? According to former NEA President Reg Weaver, one-third of the NEA is Republican. Even more interestingly, Mike Antonucci wrote,

NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.”

Then, pretending to be an advocate for children, Van Roekel says,

It’s not enough to say that most teachers are good. If there is even one classroom with a teacher who isn’t prepared or qualified, we can’t accept that. Because this country is not about equal opportunity for most. It’s about equal opportunity for all. And let me be clear: This country is not about all the educational opportunity you can afford, it’s about all the educational opportunity our nation can provide, not for some but for all students in America!

We proudly stand for equity, and when we say “equity,” we’re not talking about the Bain Capital Private Equity Corporation. When we talk about equity, we are saying that every child, every classroom deserves a great teacher and great support professional. If the solutions that others are attempting to impose on us don’t work for the students we serve, then we must take the responsibility to define solutions that do work for every student.

This is nothing if not amusing. We will excuse the minor swipe at presidential candidate Romney, but when he starts talking about equity and that “every classroom deserves a great teacher,” it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test. All the NEA cares about is having as many warm bodies in the classroom as possible, thus accumulating as much money and power as it can. As an example, just a couple of weeks ago a potential piece of legislation in California got snuffed, primarily due to the fact that NEA state affiliate, the California Teachers Association cannot abide losing any teacher, no matter how perverted. SB 1530 would have shortened the now endless and wildly expensive process for getting rid of a teacher who abuses children with sex, drugs or violence.

If great teachers were really important to Mr. Van Roekel, he wouldn’t be spending his time fighting to keep the worst ones while killing every school choice bill within his grasp. Back in 2009, Van Roekel, stating that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA,” wrote every Democratic member of Congress with thinly veiled threats, warning them not to support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher (‘DC Opportunity Scholarship’) program,” Van Roekel wrote in a March 5, 2009 letter. “We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.

Though the tiny D.C. voucher program resurfaced, at that time Congress dutifully complied with Van Roekel’s threat and killed it, thus keeping some of the capital’s most hopeful young students trapped in their lousy schools. NEA won. Students lost. There has been no change in NEA’s hostile position on vouchers since 2009.

And it is not only Van Roekel who remains defiant. At the convention there were the usual loopy New Business Items (NBI) which will alienate many within NEA as well as the public at large. (New Business Items are proposed projects and actions from the delegates for action during the coming year.) For example, NBI 22 states,

NEA shall develop a strategy to reverse “Citizen United” Supreme Court decision through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This will include working with coalitions, office holders and concerned citizens.

NEA amending the Constitution? This is more than a bit hubristic, perhaps. Moreover, has no one explained to these yahoos that Citizen’s United actually works in their favor?

NBI 13:

The NEA supports the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in their negotiations with Chicago’s Mayor and his hand-picked school board.

The CTU is asking for a 30 percent raise for its teachers and has already authorized a strike should they not get it. The average American who is struggling to make ends meet will not take kindly to a teachers strike under these circumstances. On the PR scale, 10 being perfect and 1 being a disaster, this is a minus 3.

NBI 3:

NEA shall compile a list of individuals and corporations who contribute $250,000 or more to “super pacs” and additional activities. The list shall include companies and products they control. The information shall be published in the “NEA TODAY” prior to March 1, 2013.

Uh-oh. Looks like we are in for another year of unbridled Koch Brother bashing. In its ongoing assault against private industry, NEA won’t acknowledge that together with the American Federation of Teachers, “…America’s two teachers’ unions outspent 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 despite the hand wringing and doomsday talk – as evidenced by its clueless president’s speech and out-of-touch delegates – NEA is showing no signs of contrition or willingness to change. This dog will never meow. It may make a minor concession here and there, but the handwriting is on the wall. It’s not a question of “if” they will be relegated to the ash heap of history, but “when.”

About the author: 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.