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.

Right-to-Work Rights and Wrongs

Teachers union treasurer perpetuates myths about worker freedom.

The term “right-to-work” (RTW) very simply means that workers don’t have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. In the U.S., there are 24 such states and 26 where paying dues to a union  is required in many workplaces.

The unions, with all their pro-worker chatter, hate the fact that in some places, employees actually have a choice whether to join or not. As Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, wrote recently, “Teacher Union Bosses’ Hatred of Right to Work Laws Is Understandable” – the reason being that people are flocking to RTW states in droves, which is costing unions millions in lost dues. The National Education Association has been hit especially hard.

The U.S. Census Bureau data show that, from 2002 to 2012, the number of K-12 school-aged children (that is, 5-17 year-olds) across the U.S. edged up by 0.8%, from 53.28 million to 53.73 million.  However, the 22 states that had Right to Work laws on the books barring forced union dues and fees throughout the period saw their aggregate school-aged population grow by 1.7 million, or 8.3%.  Meanwhile, the number of school-aged children living in the 27 states that lacked Right to Work laws throughout the period fell by nearly 1.3 million, or 4.0%.  (Indiana, whose Right to Work law took effect in early 2012, is excluded.)

But the union crowd never misses an opportunity to let a clever sounding narrative run roughshod over the facts. The latest purveyor of union blather is Arlene Inouye, current treasurer of the United Teachers of Los Angeles and member of the ominous sounding “Union Power Slate,” a group that is trying to unseat current president Warren Fletcher in an election this January. In the latest edition of the union newspaper, she wrote “Unionism 101: The growing right-to-work (for less) movement,” an article riddled with errors, half-truths and good old-fashioned demagoguery. Ms. Inouye made her first blunder when she quoted the president.

President Obama exposed what it is really about when he said right to work “will take your right to bargain for better wages” and give you the “right to work for less money.” So, let’s call it what it really is: a right-to-work (for less) legislative movement.

The statement, which conflates two issues, is erroneous. RTW simply means that workers have a choice. Collective bargaining can exist in a RTW state.

Ms. Inouye relentlessly pounds the cutesy “for less” theme in her piece which is replete with all the usual buzz terms. “The one percenters,” “an attack on the public sector” and “corporate interests in politics” all make an appearance along with several sob stories about abused, impoverished and beleaguered teachers in RTW states.

But the facts are quite different. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research reported that in 2011, when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – was adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) lack Right to Work laws.

Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws. The sole exception among the nine is forced-unionism Illinois. While the Prairie State’s relatively high spendable average income is a positive, it should be noted the state is at the same time plagued by high out-migration of families with children and extraordinarily poor job creation.

Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.

After Michigan became a RTW state, The Wall Street Journal reported,

According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.

Other policies (such as no income tax) play a role in such migration, so economist Richard Vedder tried to sort out the variables. In the 2010 Cato Journal, he wrote that “without exception” he found “a statistically significant positive relationship” between right to work and net migration.

Mr. Vedder also found a 23% higher rate of per capita income growth in right-to-work states. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance finds that Michigan is now the 35th state in overall prosperity measured by per capita income. Had Michigan adopted a right-to-work law in 1977, the group estimates, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008. (Emphasis added.)

Despite Ms. Inouye’s apocalyptic scenario, many teachers (especially younger ones) actively avoid unionization. Charter schools, only a small percentage of which are unionized, are quickly gaining in popularity with parents and teachers alike. In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

Trying “something different” when you have a phonebook-sized union contract hanging over your head is rather difficult.

Wisconsin, where teachers now have a choice to join a union – thanks to Governor Scott Walker – has seen a precipitous drop in membership.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, lost about half of its 98,000 members since Act 10 became law in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That means WEAC has lost approximately half of its annual income from membership dues, which has impacted its ability to remain a force on the state political scene. (Emphasis added.)

But I did agree with one point that Ms. Inouye made. Quoting Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Union, she wrote, “Be vigilant, informed, and don’t think that it (becoming RTW) won’t happen to you.”

Whether California will ever become RTW is anyone’s guess, but being vigilant and informed is certainly a worthy pursuit. However, considering the sophistry emanating from Ms. Inouye, she is hardly the one to be offering the “information.”

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 Battle of Wisconsin

Governor Walker’s victory on June 5th was crucial, but the war is far from over.

Just a week ago, Scott Walker survived a recall, beating back the rapacious efforts of the National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Wisconsin Education Association (WEAC) to recall the Wisconsin governor who had the moxie to work with the state legislature to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers. Union rhetoric aside, collective bargaining is not a civil right, nor is it enshrined in the Constitution or alluded to in the Bible. It’s a statutory decision made in state houses all over the country. What Walker and the legislature did was perfectly legal and in fact quite moral.

Perhaps the worst part of Wisconsin’s Act 10 for the unions is that it allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It also says that the union can’t collect its dues via payroll deduction. As a result, within a year, the WEAC membership went from 90,000 to 70,000 and that translates into millions of dollars that the union can’t spend forcing its agenda down everyone’s throat.

What are the unions’ reactions to the defeat?

The only mention of the loss on WEAC’s website is a pointed message from its president, Mary Bell,

We are disappointed in the outcome of Tuesday’s election. Defeating a sitting governor was an uphill battle, yet despite this electoral defeat we have accomplished a lot educating and informing the people of Wisconsin about public education, workers’ rights and the need to restore honest government.

The NEA response, on the other hand, is positively bizarre. As of this writing, the only mention on the NEA website of what happened in Wisconsin on June 5th is a blog post by resident hack Tim Winter. The headline is, “Educator’s Victory in Wisconsin Gives Democrats Majority in State Senate” and the post begins,

John Lehman, a former high school history and economics teacher and a retired National Education Association and Wisconsin Education Association Council member, was elected last night to the Wisconsin State Senate. Lehman’s ouster of Senator Van Wanggaard, one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key allies, will help restore the balance of power in Madison.

Huh? They just got their political butts kicked and yet are claiming victory, touting an unimportant win in the state senate. Their senate “victory” is essentially meaningless because the Wisconsin legislature is not in session now and won’t be until after another round of elections in November.

Then, in paragraph 6, we hear from world class hypocrite Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA,

These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin. The good news is that the barrage of out-of-state corporate money did not keep voters from restoring the balance of power in the state Senate.

Perhaps a little Wisconsin Brie to go with that whine, Mr. Van Roekel? Making NEA out to be a little mom-and-pop operation that was defeated by out-of-state corporate bullies is pathetic. The NEA in fact is the ultimate out-of-state corporate bully. It spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin and, as Mike Antonucci points out, it spent about $5 million to defeat Issue 2 in Ohio in 2011. The idiocy of Van Roekel’s attempts to portray NEA as a little David fighting Goliath was pinpointed by Antonucci in 2009 when he wrote about teacher union political spending. Referring to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, he tells us that

…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.

While NEA tries to feebly downplay what was a bad defeat for forced unionism, it is essential to keep things in perspective. There is no doubt that Wisconsin will pave the way for other states to try similar legislation, but it’s important to note that while 20,000 teachers have left WEAC, 70,000 still remain. So it’s not that all or even a majority of teachers have jumped ship.

Last week, on a similar note, the Wall Street Journal published the results of an Education Next poll. It asked, “Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”

In our polls from 2009 to 2011, we saw little change in public opinion. Around 40% of respondents were neutral, saying that unions had neither a positive nor negative impact. The remainder divided almost evenly, with the negative share being barely greater than the positive.

But this year unions lost ground. While 41% of the public still takes the neutral position, those with a positive view of unions dropped to 22% in 2012 from 29% in 2011.

As we see, public opinion is turning against the unions. That having been said, two in five people are still neutral. Hence we seem to be in a transitional phase, but much of the public is still misinformed, uninformed or ambivalent.

More interestingly, the pollsters posed the same question to teachers,

The survey’s most striking finding comes from its nationally representative sample of teachers. Whereas 58% of teachers took a positive view of unions in 2011, only 43% do in 2012. The number of teachers holding negative views of unions nearly doubled to 32% from 17% last year.

Again, the movement is toward seeing the unions in a negative light, but still more than two teachers in five see the union as having a good effect on schools.

No doubt that winning the Battle of Wisconsin was important. But there have been many articles written in the last week triumphantly referring to Walker’s victory as the beginning of the end of teacher union dominance. Maybe it is, but it was just one battle and the bigger war rages on. To win that war, those of us who see teachers unions as the biggest impediment to any real education reform cannot afford to let up. In fact, it is incumbent upon us to redouble our efforts to make our case to those teachers and the general public who remain neutral on this issue. Even with dwindling membership, the NEA is a formidable opponent that will do whatever it can to maintain its vast and destructive power. We get cocky at our own risk.

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.