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.