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Dear California Teacher

An email sent to educators just 10 years ago opened a lot of eyes – including mine – about the true nature of the teachers unions.

In 2005, after having taught for 24 years, I was becoming quite agitated. All along I had been subsidizing the teachers unions’ political agenda and thought I had no choice in doing so. I then learned that I could opt out of the political portion of union dues, but the process to do so was designed to discourage such actions. Shortly thereafter I read about Prop. 75, a California ballot initiative, which would have done just what I wanted: make the payment of the political portion of union dues voluntary. Teachers and other public employees would have to give the union permission before it deducted several hundred dollars a year from each paycheck to fund its pet political causes. The unions’ largess, supporting many causes which had nothing to do with teaching or education, went almost entirely in a leftward direction – implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain, etc.

In June, 2005, political consultant Steve Frank recruited me to become part of the Prop. 75 campaign. The so-called “Paycheck Protection” initiative was very popular at that time with both teachers and the general public. But over the summer, deeply threatened that their easy access to workers’ money would be cut off, the unions went into overdrive and spent a huge amount of cash, much of it on misleading ads. The California Teachers Association told teachers that if the prop passed, their pensions would be threatened. The police union told their members that if it was successful, the public would learn where the cops lived. Both allegations were big lies, but they were effective in swaying public opinion.

In October, several weeks before the election, Fontana teacher Lillian Perry and I signed off on an email sent to 90,000 teachers by the Prop. 75 campaign. It began,

Dear California Teacher:

We are also California teachers and are writing to you because we’re concerned about what the leaders of our union, the California Teachers Association (CTA), are doing to our union and with our hard earned dollars that we send to them in Sacramento every month.

Here’s the bottom line: Our current leadership is on the verge of bankrupting the CTA to fund a political agenda that many of us do not support.

Every year, union leaders in Sacramento take more than $100 million dollars from California teachers’ paychecks. This is approximately $300 per teacher per year. Much of this is used to fund a political agenda over which individual teachers have little control. Even worse, this is taken from our paychecks without our permission.

Earlier this year, the CTA leadership decided it still didn’t have enough money to spend on politics, so the (they) decided to take an additional $60 each year from our paychecks for the next three years. This forced assessment gave the union leaders an additional $50 million or more of our money for their political agenda.

Then, the spit really hit the fan. To say that CTA was unhappy would be the understatement of the century. The email made news all over the state, and if nothing else, got everyone talking about the prop. The Daily Kos smeared those of us who had stepped forward. CTA boss Barbara Kerr was indignant, saying, “It’s insulting that it was sent to them at their schools.” The union tried to push the matter – even at one point threatening Perry and me with imprisonment for sending our missive to teachers at work which it claimed was illegal. (The bullying didn’t work; we sent two more emails which CTA couldn’t stop because it didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.)

We did get some sympathetic press, though. Deroy Murdock, a media fellow with the Hoover Institution, wrote “The Union of the Snake” for National Review, in which he detailed the ugly bullying tactics used by the union to combat the initiative. As is oh-so-typical, the unions rarely argued the merits of the prop; they simply threatened us, cursed at us and shouted us down. As Murdock reports, when a National Right to Work Foundation lawyer and several of the prop’s advocates held a press conference in Sacramento, some of SEIU’s finest showed up and yelled “Shame on you!!” over and over and over again as the proponents tried to make their case. Murdock also related the tale of Sandra Crandall – a Teacher-of-the-Year – who then was in her 36th year as a Kindergarten teacher in Fountain Valley. In September, Crandall told the Los Angeles Times, “This is a freedom-of-choice issue. The issue is so simple, my Kindergarten children understand it. Ask permission. Ask permission on how to use my hard-earned money.”

Crandall’s simple, fair-minded statement engendered a less-than-charming response from “Four Pro-Union teachers who think you and the governor and the Republican party (sic) stink.” A few highlights:

You are a disgrace in supporting such a measure … You not only deserve to be shunned by your colleagues, you deserve to be bitch slapped in public by all the teachers you work with for demonstrating such a high level of right wing drivel and stupidity. Do us all a favor, shut your mouth and stop providing ammunition to the enemy.

Ah yes, nothing like tolerance and civil discourse!

As Election Day neared, I was mildly optimistic that we’d win. Especially so, after I, along with Lillian Perry, former Mayor Richard Riordan and Deputy Sheriff Lon Jacobs, appeared before the Los Angeles Times editorial board to pitch the initiative. We apparently convinced them of its merits, because on October 16th, much to my delight, the Times officially endorsed Prop. 75.

In the end though, we couldn’t beat the powerful union machine. Fueled by CTA’s $12 million ad buys (paid for, of course, with dues money teachers were forced to fork over), the anti-75 forces outspent us almost 10 to 1 – $54.1 million to $5.8 million and the measure lost by 53.5 to 46.5 percent. Not surprisingly all the big money came from the unions, including a $3.3 million donation from the California Democratic Party – a bought-and-paid-for wing of CTA.

Needless to say, I was furious with the outcome. But it motivated me in 2006 to co-found the California Teachers Empowerment Network, whose mission is to give teachers unbiased information, and combat union spin and outright lies. In 2010, I worked on a similar prop – The Citizens Power Initiative – which unfortunately never made it onto the ballot. And in 2012 I stumped for Prop. 32, yet another initiative promoting worker freedom. It too failed at the polls.

Now – exactly ten years after the rise and fall of Prop. 75 – there are two lawsuits which could accomplish even more than what the failed initiative had tried to achieve. The Friedrichs v CTA case, due to be heard by SCOTUS in 2016, would make paying any dues to a union optional for all public employees nationwide. If Bain v. CTA flies, teachers will be able to opt out of the political portion of their dues without being forced to resign from the union.

Both cases promote teacher freedom and choice at the expense of union bullying and hegemony. It’s about time teachers and other public employees had both.

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.

Labor Union Day

Labor Day has become little more than an opportunity for union leaders to puff out their chests and make grandiose statements about the glories of organized labor.

As a way to build their brand, union leaders typically pit management against labor, portraying the worker as David fighting greedy entrepreneurs and corporate Goliaths. This is especially true on Labor Day which, courtesy of organized labor, has morphed into “Labor Union Day.”

No one is better at union puffery than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who proclaimed on her union’s website last week, “Unions still matter.” Her Goliaths-du-jour are the Koch brothers and the Waltons, “and the politicians they’ve bought, (who) think they can paint us as the problem, and they’re doing their best to do just that.”

But there is a huge horsefly in her ointment. According to recently released numbers by the Center for Responsive Politics, half of the nation’s top organizational donors in 2014 were unions, with the National Education Association weighing in at #3 and Weingarten’s AFT at #7, while the Koch Brothers were #14. It looks like the unions have traded their slingshots for AK-47s.

Another standard union ploy is to pump themselves up by taking credit for the five-day work week and the eight hour day. But this too is fantasy. The credit for that goes to noted capitalist Henry Ford who, thinking it was a good business move, instituted that change in the 1920s. (The United Auto Workers didn’t come into being until 1935.)

The unions also make sure to take time out the first Monday of September to assure its members that without the union they would be living in Dickensian poverty. Actually there is no truth to this assertion either. Debunking various union claims, Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth cited recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data,

Unionized workers are more heavily concentrated in urban and northeast regions, where both the costs of labor and living are higher. BLS data show that 26% of New York workers belong to unions, compared to 3% of South Carolina workers. Yes, New Yorkers earn more, but a nationally averaged $100 bill buys $87 worth of goods in New York and $110 in South Carolina, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Furchtgott-Roth also points out that that union membership has been declining all over the country and this is worrying Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. So worried in fact that the White House will be convening a Summit on Worker Voice on Oct. 7 to, in Perez’s words, “highlight the value of collective bargaining.” I guess not too many workers are seeing that “value” as the share of workers belonging to unions declined from 20 percent in 1983 to 11 percent in 2014. The percent of private-sector union members is now a measly 6.6 percent and union leaders are mum on the issue. Other than worker dissatisfaction with unions, the main reason is that companies can’t bear the bloated salaries and perks that its leaders demand. As a result, unionized companies begin to lose market share to nonunionized firms and then, to stay solvent, move their manufacturing to foreign lands. Using the auto industry as an example, Furchtgott-Roth writes,

In 1987, Volkswagen closed what was then its only assembly plant in America, which was located in New Stanton, Pa. During its 10 years of operation, workers went on strike several times, halting production lines and forcing the company to pay higher wages. Volkswagen moved its production to Mexico and Brazil to take advantage of lower wage rates. Last year, auto workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against joining the United Auto Workers.

My guess is that Weingarten and her cronies never came to understand the simple rudiments of capitalism. Or do they…? As Deroy Murdock points out, when unions become management, they act just like any company trying to protect its bottom line, and the hypocrisy is stunning.

  • For 13 years, Jim Callaghan wrote speeches and newsletter articles for the United Federation of Teachers (Weingarten’s New York City AFT local.) He told the New York Post that when managers sacked one of his colleagues without cause, he decided to organize the UFT’s 12 in-store, non-union writers. He was fired for his efforts.
  • “We’ve got to downsize,” a United Auto Workers source said. As its membership shrank from some 500,000 in 2008 to 431,000 in 2009, the union fired 120 of its own staffers “to balance its budget,” the Detroit News noted.
  • Private companies often complain that union labor is too expensive and it seems that the powerful International Brotherhood of Teamsters agrees. When constructing their union hall in Houston, they refused to employ union workers because they were too costly.

I can only hope that on Labor Days to come, we celebrate the contributions of the American worker, who – along with entrepreneurs and capitalists – made the country what it is. The unions with their colossal hubris, hypocrisy and heavy-handed ways have done nothing to deserve a “Day” of their own.

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.

Could California Follow Wisconsin’s Teacher Union Jail Break?

If CA becomes a right-to-work state, a seismic political shift may ensue.

Last week Mike Antonucci reported that the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the National Education Association’s Badger State affiliate, is down to fewer than 50,000 members (40,000 currently employed) from a high of over 100,000 in 2009. This precipitous loss is a result of Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 which became law in 2011. The law limits collective bargaining for teachers (and other public employees), requires annual votes for union certification and prohibits employers (taxpayer-funded school districts) from collecting union dues. Wisconsin, having become a right-to-work state in March, is sure to see those numbers fall even more in the years to come.

As Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute points out, it isn’t just individual members who are leaving their unions, “…an increasing number of teachers’ unions were being decertified by their members all together.” And over a 100 public school unions in Wisconsin have voted to do just that in the last two years. In addition to worker freedom, MacIver reports that Act 10 has saved taxpayers over $3 billion.

Needless to say, unionistas are furious with Walker, infusing their disdain with Marxist rhetoric and on any given day comparing him to Hitler. But is Walker really bad for workers? Hillary Clinton sure thinks so. Right after Walker announced that he was running for president, Clinton went off on him.

Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights, and practically all the Republican candidates hope to do the same as president. I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks. Evidence shows that the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men, so if we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers.

But the statistics tell a very different story for workers. Deroy Murdock points out that since Walker has become governor, Wisconsin has outperformed the country as a whole using a variety of metrics including unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, inflation-adjusted, median household income, etc.

While California has no Act 10, it would become a right-to-work state if Friedrichs v California passes muster with the Supreme Court next year. And if teachers and others public employees are not forced into paying dues, what would the ramifications be for the Golden State? A political earthquake is imaginable.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission shows that by far the biggest political influence peddler in CA is the California Teachers Association, which spent over $211 million between 2000-2009 on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying. It’s no secret that CTA will fight any education reform measure that diminishes its influence; charter school proliferation, vouchers and reasonable teacher evaluation methods are but a few examples. But CTA also spends oodles on non-education issues, all of which swerve sharply to the left. As Troy Senik writes in City Journal,

Among these causes: implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, blocking photo-identification requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain. The CTA was the single biggest financial opponent of another Proposition 8, the controversial 2008 proposal to ban gay marriage, ponying up $1.3 million to fight an initiative that eventually won 52.2 percent of the vote. The union has also become the biggest donor to the California Democratic Party. From 2003 to 2012, the CTA spent nearly $102 million on political contributions; 0.08 percent of that money went to Republicans. (Emphasis added.)

The second highest spender was another public employee union, the California State Council of Service Employees, a branch of SEIU, which spent over $107 million on politics during the same time period. California Common Sense, an organization that is dedicated to opening government to the public, reports that CSCSE spent broadly across various state-level positions in 2013, “focusing on Governor’s ($4.9 million), State Senate ($1.4 million), and State Assembly races ($1.2 million). Like most unions, CSCSE opposed Republican candidates in almost every case.”

The results of union largess in the Golden State have been devastating for Republicans, who have been marginalized in Sacramento for years. After a few crucial GOP wins in 2014, the Los Angeles Times wrote,

California Republicans scored a rare victory in Tuesday’s election by denying Democrats a two-thirds legislative supermajority that would consign GOP lawmakers to virtual irrelevance in the state Capitol.

For a party sharply diminished by two decades of relentless setbacks in California, it passed as a major achievement for Republicans to capture more than a third of the seats in the state Senate and possibly the Assembly as well.

Clearly the unions don’t deserve all the “credit” for the pathetic GOP results, but to be sure, they have played a huge part. If California experiences a 50 percent Wisconsin-type drop in union members, however, the Democrat’s stranglehold in CA could be eased considerably. CTA’s position as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” would be history. Not having an endless supply of cash, it would have to pick and choose its political recipients much more judiciously. Also if teachers and others aren’t forced to pay the union for the right to work, the unions would have to become more of a political big tent in order to entice workers to join. And Democrats, who regularly carp about “getting big money out of politics,” will – to some extent – finally get their wish.

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.