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Will a Bipartisan Coalition Restrict Public Safety Unions?

During the effort to curb collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker suggested the exemption for public safety employees was necessary to avoid the possibility of a strike by “first responders.” The real reason may have been a political calculation; restricting the bargaining rights of all public employees including public safety could have triggered a losing battle. Cynics may argue that Walker, and other Republicans – from Ohio to Orange County – have stood on principle against public employee unions in general, but exempted public safety unions in particular since they tend to be heavier contributors to Republican political campaigns.

Fortunately, public sector union reform is something even Democrats are realizing is essential if governments are going to get budgets under control, implement labor-saving new technologies, reform public education, and have funds left over to rebuild and upgrade infrastructure.

Now a Democratic Senator in Wisconsin, Tim Carpenter, has picked up where Gov. Walker left off. An article in the Wisconsin Reporter entitled “Police union says Dem proposal on collective bargaining is retaliation,” describes Carpenter’s “Act 10 Equity” legislation that would “expand the state’s controversial restrictions on collective bargaining to the two sectors spared from the new law more than two years ago.”

Again, a cynic might suggest this is indeed retaliation – if those liberal teachers unions are going to be restricted, so should those conservative police unions. But if conservatives truly adhere to the fundamental principles of limited government and individual freedoms, it is the right thing to do.

With all public employee unions, the more restrictions on property rights or personal freedoms there are, the more public employees are needed to enforce them. Public employee unions are intrinsically in favor of bigger government and less freedom because that is how they serve their members and build their organizations. Even if public employee unions were banned entirely, public employees would still be extremely active and influential in politics, because their livelyhoods are intimately affected by public policy.

This conflict of interests – the fact that a bigger, more intrusive government serves the interests of government employees but does not necessarily serve the interests of private citizens – is magnified in the case of public safety unions. As noted in an earlier editorial “How Public Sector Unions Skew America’s Public Safety and National Security Agenda,” as we enter an era of ubiquitous surveillance and automated law-enforcement tactics, it is vital that civil libertarians on both sides of the political spectrum recognize that government unions have a vested interest in expanding the size and the powers of government.

There are compelling reasons why law enforcement is more challenging that it has ever been. The globalization of crime, the emergence of cyber-crime, asymmetric terror threats and cultural upheaval, all combine to require police work of unprecedented scope and sophistication. But how we maintain the precarious balance between security and liberty should be a discussion that isn’t preempted by public safety unions whose primary agenda is to increase the payroll and power of their agencies. In Wisconsin, for example, they will still wield tremendous political influence even if their unions are subjected to the same restrictions as unions representing other public employees.

Governor Walker has recently opened the door to completing the work he started. As reported last week in Wisconsin Public Radio News and the Huffington Post, he said “state Republicans might expand the state’s controversial restrictions on collective bargaining to the two sectors spared from the new law more than two years ago.”

If Walker decides to try to finish the job, he may encounter resistance from Republicans who lack the courage of their convictions because they need to accept political contributions from public safety unions. But Walker may find unexpected support from Democrats.

Wisconsin, along with most states in America right now, is in the midst of an epic debate over whether or not public sector unions should be more heavily regulated, if not outlawed entirely. In a partisan, and very superficial context, it is a debate between Democrats and Republicans. In an economic context, it is a debate as to whether or not government employees should be permitted to use union clout to elevate themselves to positions of extraordinary economic privilege, exempting themselves from the challenges facing their fellow citizens. And in the related context of civil liberties, it is a debate as to whether or not unionized government workers are enabling a police state that ensures perpetuation of a status-quo favoring anti-competitive monopolies, wealthy elites, and government workers.

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UnionWatch is edited by Ed Ring, who can be reached at editor@unionwatch.org.

Related Editorials

How Public Sector Unions Skew America’s Public Safety and National Security Agenda

Why Public Sector Unions are “Special” Special Interests

The Special Privileges And Exemptions of Public Sector Unions

Should Police and Firefighters be Exempted from Union Reforms?

Public Safety Compensation Trends 1990-2010 (CPPC study)

Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions

The Preexisting Political Advantage of Government Workers

California’s Government Unions Fight Reformers

The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions

Wall Street & Public Sector Unions

Stand Up To Bullying Day

The NEA says that May 4th should be devoted to anti-bullying. Okay, and to be fair, I suggest that we start with the biggest organized bullies in the country – the teachers unions themselves.

The National Education Association celebrated “Stand Up To Bullying Day” on May 4th. Its website is full of advice about how to deal with what it calls “everyone’s problem.” With a solemnity ordinarily reserved for a Sunday morning sermon, NEA has created a pledge

I agree to be identified as a caring adult who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with other caring adults to create a safe learning environment for all the students in my school.

Please note, the union talks only about children bullying other children; there is nothing about adults bullying other adults.

Few adults in the country know more about bullying than Kristi Lacroix, a parent of five in eastern Wisconsin and according to her principal a “very good teacher.” Lacroix made a brief video late last year in which she spoke well of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – aka “Hitler” to many teacher unionistas in the Badger State because he led the charge to remove teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Many in teachers unions believe that collective bargaining is sacrosanct, a human right; it’s not. In fact, it survives only because union heavies and their legislative fellow travelers in certain states have made sure that that this Soviet style group-think is law.

Lacroix has been a target of Alinskyite teacher union venom for months now. There is a “fire Kristi” movement that has led to a vicious hate mail attack from members of teachers unions. Luckily, Lacroix is anything but a shrinking violet and has stood tall and started her own website in an attempt to tell her story and lead the charge against the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s NEA affiliate.

Sad to say, Lacroix is far from the only teacher victimized by bullying. Actually, teacher unions, despite their public concern for children, can be quite brutal. In fact, the NEA asking anyone to take an anti-bullying pledge is akin to “Uncle Joe” Stalin asking people not to bully the Ukrainians.

Recently, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, published an important report – Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around which is summarized as “When Bullies Grow Up, They Can Always Run Teachers Unions,” an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. She explains that teacher union bullying is rampant and can come either directly from the unions or as a result of fear of them. For example,

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?”

In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations — not just unions, but also other professional organizations — equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.

Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.

This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn’t publicly speak for a bill extending the state’s two-week window for ending union membership.

“They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization,” she wrote. “I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job.”

At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being “a desperate former teacher” and stalked about the room ripping up the competition’s fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.

As sickening as these examples are, Pullmann goes on to say that they are not isolated incidents.

Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations.

As we can see, teachers are frequent victims of teacher union bullying, but to show that they are fair–minded and equal-opportunity coercers, the California Teachers Association recently did a bang-up job of bullying parents in Adelanto, a town in eastern California. Not liking the results of a Parent Trigger vote at a local school, CTA sent in its finest arm twisters, I mean representatives, and “convinced” many of those who signed the petitions to have a “change of heart.”

While I’m sure that most teachers are not in accord with thuggish union activities, it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and wish the problem away. It is imperative that teachers speak out against teacher union bullying. While Kristi Lacroix has indeed received some positive mail, it typically comes from teachers who do so privately and, because of the fear factor, will not publicly criticize their union. If a lot more teachers don’t speak up, however, the public has no choice but to assume that their silence is tacit approval of the unions’ actions, thus earning them the justifiable enmity of a populace that is rapidly getting sick and tired of teacher union antics.

May 9th is the “Day of the Teacher,” but perhaps the day should be renamed “Stand Up To Teacher Union Bullying Day.” It would be a good time for dissident teachers to come forth and take a stand. For a profession that is supposedly demoralized, this could be the first step to “remoralization.” And yes, there are other professional organizations that they can join that provide them with many of the same perks and protections and save them money at the same time. But while The Association of American Educators, Christian Educators Association International, Educators 4 Excellence, California Teachers Empowerment Network, et al are all growing, the teachers unions still predominate. And union heavies are lying in wait, ready to bully the next brave teacher who dares to take issue with the union party line.

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.