Teacher union Pinocchios

By Larry Sand
December 19, 2017

A new poll shows that teachers are politically divided, but union political spending is anything but.

The results of a poll released last week by the Education Week Research Center reveal that teachers are evenly distributed across the political map. 29 percent said they are liberal, 27 percent conservative and the remainder describe themselves as moderate.

The results are not really surprising, as an internal National Education Association poll dating back to 2005 shows pretty much the same thing. In fact, the 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.”

A second Education Week poll question asks teachers if they think they are represented by their union’s political spending. 28 percent say that the union represents their political views, while the remaining 72 percent respond “some, a little or not at all.”

So in political spending, the National Education Association, the biggest union in the country, doesn’t come close to representing the majority of its members. According to Open Secrets, NEA spent 99 percent of its political bucks on Democrats/liberals in 2016, while the American Federation of Teachers spent 100 percent on leftist candidates and causes. And we are talking very big money.

Released last month, the NEA 2016-2017 U.S. Department of Labor disclosure shows that the union spent $151 million on politics. The AFT report, which came out in October, reveals that the union spent 44 million during the same time period. (H/T RiShawn Biddle.)

When one learns that the teachers unions donate liberally (pun intended) to outfits like the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, it’s easy to understand how almost three-quarters of all teachers are not in sync with their union’s spending. And the official union talking points on this subject are evasive or outright lies.

As Mike Antonucci writes, the teachers unions often tell their members that union dues are not used for politics. The reality is that the unions are not allowed to spend union dues on political candidates. Omitted from the conversation is that the unions do use their members’ dues for such things as lobbying, independent expenditures, advertising, ballot initiative campaigns, rallies, protests, and endorsements.

Further proof of outright union chicanery on the political front is their blatant dishonesty about the ramifications of the Janus v AFSCME case, which is due for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in February. If Janus prevails, no public employee in the country will have to pay a union as a condition of employment. The unions counter that workplace “coherence” makes it necessary for all employees to subsidize the union. As Antonucci points out, “They will claim that fee-payers (those who opt out of paying the political portion of their union dues) are not supporting unions’ political speech in any meaningful way.”

But out of the other side of the union mouth emerges a very different tale. In October Rob Weil, AFT director of field programs for educational issues, spoke to the Baltimore Teachers Union about the Janus case. Part of his talk dealt with the case’s potential impact on unions.

  • Unions will be forced to spend larger amounts of time and money on membership maintenance instead of other more progressive union activities.
  • The progressive moment (sic) as a whole, and many specific groups, will lose resources (both $$ and people) which will lessen their impact. Some social partners may, unfortunately, no longer exist.
  • The progressive agenda may have to be reduced in reaction to the new rules regarding dues collection.

If nothing else, Weil should be commended for his honesty.

Again, three quarters of teachers are not really in agreement with their union’s political agenda, but labor leaders – who claim their unions represent all teachers – really don’t give a flip, all the while spouting bald-faced lies that mask their real agenda. In fact, Pinocchio looks like George Washington when sitting next to many union bosses.

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.