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Teachers Unions Give Middle Finger to the Middle Class

New documents show, yet again, teachers unions’ disdain for American workers.

If you Google NEA + middle class + Friedrichs, you will be barraged with a load of demagogic union bromides about how the Friedrichs case – which opposes mandatory dues payments to public employee unions (PEUs) as a condition of employment – will, if successful, destroy the middle class. “Friedrichs Is Missing Its Warning Label” and “American Dream a casualty of Friedrichs lawsuit” are typical pro-union manifestos sounding alarm bells about the purported horrors that would befall workers should Friedrichs pass muster in the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

But in reality it’s the unions themselves that are destroying the middle class. Here in California, due to exorbitant pensions and Cadillac healthcare perks to PEU members, San Bernardino, Vallejo and Stockton have already gone bankrupt. Very possibly your city could be next. And at the same time that municipalities are going under, “Taxifornia” is among the highest in the nation in state income tax, sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax and property tax. And for those among us who demand that we “soak the rich,” it will only speed up the California-to-Texas migration already in progress. At this point, the rich – defined as the top 1 percent of taxpayers – earn approximately 22 percent of the nation’s income, yet pay 38 percent of all federal income taxes. What about the top 25 percent of taxpayers? They earn almost 69 percent of the nation’s income, but pay 86 percent of all federal income taxes. In California, the wealthiest one percent paid over 50 percent of the state income tax in 2012. Virtually every other tax dollar is forked over by the middle class.

Now comes a report that Teachers Unions Spent Millions on Luxury Hotels, Overseas Travel, Car Services. Investigators from The 74, a news site headed by former newswoman-turned-education reformer Campbell Brown, dug up financial documents filed with the U.S. Labor Department by the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) which reveal that the union elite “show a penchant for five-star business expenses that are far removed from the $56,000-a-year average teacher’s salary in the U.S.” Between 2011 and 2014, the country’s largest teachers unions “spent more than $5.7 million booking rooms at the world’s poshest hotels and resorts, scoring flights to exotic overseas destinations and traveling back and forth in limos….” These luxuries are paid for by dues that teachers have forcibly removed from their paychecks in California and throughout much of the country. And as the wealthy flee to more tax-friendly states, it is predominantly the middle class – via taxes – that foots the bills for teachers’ salaries and, of course, their union dues.

Limos, cruises, exotic overseas destinations, car services, luxury hotels – all above the pay grade of the average teacher and average American worker – are de rigeur for the union elite. One union leader, blind to the bombastic hypocrisy, has no qualms about the extravagance. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said “We’re proud of every nickel we spend on our members and retirees.”

The teacher union elite clearly have a “Let them eat cake” attitude toward its rank-and-file, not to mention the rest of us. We can only hope that the Friedrichs case will be successful. If it is, the unions will have to become accountable to its members, many of whom do not appreciate the union elite’s profligate spending on their pampered selves. And, of course, the beleaguered taxpayers will get some relief also. Now that’s an “American Dream” worthy of us all.

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.

When Union Bosses Become Employers

Sanctimonious labor leaders treat their employees very differently than their members.

While tales of union hypocrisy are as common as instances of Donald Trump sticking his Ferragamos in his mouth, there is one facet of union two-facedness that is under-reported – the role of union as employer. As mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, when union becomes management, it acts like any company trying to protect its bottom line.

In June 2014, the Association of Field Service Employees was upset that its contract had expired, and management had been slow to agree on a new one. Mike Antonucci points out, “This wouldn’t be all that unusual, except management is the National Education Association and AFSE is one of the unions representing staffers.” Clearly photos of picketing workers had to be an embarrassment for NEA, but when the bottom line is at stake, even the largest union in the country becomes a tough-minded employer.

When it comes to pension plans, public employee unions (PEUs) insist on defined benefit pension plans for its members. This means that boom or bust, retired government workers get paid the same amount of money each month in perpetuity. If there is a shortfall – and there invariably is – the taxpayer is on the hook for the difference. (To read about public pension issues and the havoc they wreak, go to PensionTsunami.com.) In a defined contribution plan – the 401(k) is typical for many employees in private industry – workers and their employers set aside a certain amount each month and that money is invested. When the employee subsequently retires, they are entitled to whatever money has accrued in their retirement account.

You would think that staffers who work for PEUs would be “entitled” to a defined benefit pension also. This is rarely the case, however, with the scenario in Philadelphia being the norm. As Watchdog.org reporter Evan Grossman writes, “Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff.” Typical of union leaders, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan has long railed against using 401(k) retirement plans for PFT members as a way to curb skyrocketing pension costs. In fact, he and hundreds of thousands of teachers from Philly have been and will be recipients of a defined benefit pension and fight any bill – like Senate Bill 1, which would have moved teachers into a more taxpayer-friendly 401(k) plan.

But what about the 34 office workers employed by PFT? Yup, they are enrolled in a 401(k) plan. And the union leaders have never explained – because they can’t – why defined benefits are good for its members but not for its own staff.

As is well-documented, teachers unions all over the country insist on seniority and tenure “rights” (though these days, union leaders have taken to referring to tenure as “due process”) for its educators. But in March, the California Teachers Association up and fired Katie Howard-Mullins, president of California Staff Organization (CSO), the union for “professional departmental and Regional UniServ Staff.” No reason or explanation was given by CTA for its action. Whether or not Howard-Mullins had tenure or seniority didn’t matter. She got the boot. But CTA members, whether they are pedophiles, sexual assaulters or just plain lousy teachers – are provided much better treatment and much more protection.

CSO called CTA on its hypocrisy in its newsletter, saying that the union did not use progressive discipline, a “hallmark of a positive labor-management relationship” in dealing with Howard-Mullins. CSO summed up its position by encouraging its members to talk to CTA board members and let them know that “the principles of restorative justice, due process, and progressive discipline are not just good for students, not just good for teachers. Those principles should be applied to the people who stand with you every day to make your union stronger.”

Makes sense. But when you are a powerful union, you get to behave any way you want. Fairness, openness and due process are principles that only others must abide by.

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.

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Important note for those of you in Southern California: At 3pm on Sunday, September 27th, the California Teachers Empowerment Network, along with the Association of American Educators, will be hosting an informational event in Long Beach. We will examine the Friedrichs and Bain lawsuits which could fundamentally alter the state of education nationwide, affect teacher freedom, and substantially change the political landscape in California.

I will moderate a panel discussion featuring lawyers and plaintiffs from both cases, and an audience Q&A will follow. The event and refreshments are free but seating is limited so registration is necessary To access a poster for the event, go here; to attend, go here.