Tony Thurmond – Public Sector Union Operative
As the 21st century careens its way towards more geopolitical and economic uncertainty than most people alive today have ever known, with constant and transformative change the only constant, optimists among us still hope that some elements of California’s labor movement will begin to throw their weight behind policies and politicians that offer stability and common sense; policies designed to advance the interests of all Californians. But when it comes to the teachers union, don’t hold your breath.
The fact that the teachers union is a public sector union is bad enough. Public sector unions, unlike private sector unions, do not have to make reasonable demands on management. In the competitive private sector, union negotiators know that if they ask for too much, the cost will drive the employer out of business. Public sector unions elect their own bosses; the people who then are required to negotiate with them over work rules and compensation packages. Public sector unions also protect the bad apples within their membership, shielding them from accountability. This is particularly troubling when it makes it harder to get rid of public sector workers who abuse their authority.
There’s more. Public sector unions promote a confrontational “us vs them” mentality to their members, many of whom fully embrace this indoctrination. When “them” is the general public, and in particular, any member of the public who might, for example, make a political donation to a candidate that the union opposes, this is especially problematic. Union members operate the machinery of government. They enforce building codes and issue business permits. They conduct inspections and enforce the law. They hold themselves up, often with very good reason, as role models and heroes. If you run a business in California, why would you ever want to alienate public servants and their unions?
These distinctions make public sector unions completely different from private sector unions. But of all the public sector unions, the teachers union is the worst, because the damage they’ve done to the profession of teaching is harming the next generation of Americans. They are harming the people who we are going to need to skillfully guide us through the middle decades of this turbulent century.
The harm being inflicted on America’s youth by teachers unions has become readily apparent in recent years. The teachers unions demanded an extreme response to the COVID pandemic which condemned K-12 students to two destructive years of mostly remote learning. In turn, the rollout of remote learning was poorly managed. Also revealed in the course of remote learning was the appalling level of politicized curricula, driven by leftist ideology. Divisive and controversial race and gender theories were imposed on even the youngest students, along with incessant and terrifying climate change oriented doomsday preaching.
People may debate as to what degree the union mandated COVID response was extreme or appropriate. They may disagree over how far is too far when it comes to teaching new perspectives on race, gender and climate change. But before any of this got out of control or became obvious to millions of parents, the teachers union was already failing California’s students. By making it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, by giving teachers tenure after less than two full years of classroom observation, and by favoring seniority over merit in layoffs, the teachers union has undermined the quality of public instruction for decades. And as was argued in the Vergara case, a 2016 lawsuit that attempted to reform these work rules, they had a disproportionate negative impact on students in low-income communities. Does that sound familiar? What irony.
Presiding over this mess is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond. First elected in 2018, Thurmond is running for re-election. The organizations endorsing him are almost exclusively public sector unions. They include the California Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and others.
To fully appreciate how Tony Thurmond answers to public sector unions, however, follow the money. A useful source for this, early in an election season, is the “Late and $5000+ Contributions Received” report, maintained by the California Secretary of State. Because any contribution over $5,000 has to be reported immediately by political campaigns in California, and posted by the Secretary of State within days, it is possible to get very recent contribution data on any big money. After all, the donors who contribute amounts in excess of $5,000 are the ones whose phone calls get returned. They are the ones who make or break a campaign. Thurmond’s big donors are almost all unions.
With information updated through May 6, Thurmond’s 2022 reelection bid has attracted $894,000 from donations of $5,000 or more. These donations came in the form of 114 transactions, with 70 of them coming from public sector unions. In total, $576,000 of Thurmond’s $894,000 in big money contributions so far are from public sector unions.
What’s interesting, and ominous, is the diversity of Thurmond’s public sector union contributors. There’s plenty coming from public education unions – the California Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and so on. But just as much of this early and big union money is coming from the Service Employees International, the State Pipe Trades Council, the Sheet Metal Workers, the Painters and Allied Trades, the Steamfitters, the California Nurses Association and the California Professional Firefighters, and others not directly involved in public education. Why are nurses and firefighters interested in who runs California’s public schools?
This display of solidarity is for one primary reason: Political power. Public sector unions work together to run California’s legislature, wielding nearly absolute power. They keep their disagreements confined to conference rooms and private conversations. When it comes to putting and keeping compliant political operatives in critical elected positions, they line up in unity.
The partisanship of California’s public sector unions is almost universally in favor of Democrats, and that, too, has as much to do with power than with ideology. This is why high profile billionaires, powerful tech corporations, land developers, supersized “nonprofits” (working through their for-profit vendors), and countless other large corporate and financial special interests have all lined up behind California’s Democratic party. For them, it’s a business decision. But the government glue that keeps this corporatist party closed, exclusive, regressive, and profitable for those privileged insiders, is public sector unions.
And to ensure the feudalist cabal that controls California is never overthrown by an enlightened electorate, we have California’s unionized public school monopoly, with Tony Thurmond available to do whatever he’s told to do by his union handlers. Instead of developing the skills in math and reading necessary to succeed in this complicated new century, Tony Thurmond is making sure California’s K-12 students learn every titillating nuance of modern gender theory, while also learning to harbor intractable racial resentment. Instead of developing the critical reasoning skills to recognize that California is unaffordable because environmentalist extremists have provided cover for special interests to lock up the supplies and jack up the prices for every basic essential – housing, lumber, energy, water, food – Tony Thurmond is instead making sure K-12 students develop crippling anxieties and fanatical compliance regarding anything having to do with the “climate emergency.”
Tony Thurmond, like pretty much every other candidate in California that is supported by public sector unions, is a marionette. His career, like all the rest of them, rests on obedience to an agenda that inverts a famous statement attributed to the Star Trek character Spock: “The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.”
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center.