Why Teachers’ Unions Are Losing Membership (And Dues)

Teachers Unions

by Christopher Paslay

Surveys show that many teachers see their unions as too leftist.

America needs organized labor, especially when it comes to our country’s educators. For decades, teachers (most of whom were women with no political rights) were offered low pay and had no control over their working conditions or the direction of their profession.

In 1857, forty-three educators came together in Philadelphia to change all of that. Forming what would become the National Education Association (NEA), the new union focused on raising teacher salaries, reforming child labor laws, and educating emancipated slaves.

A half-century later, a sixth-grade schoolteacher from Chicago named Margaret Haley came along. Frustrated by her low wage and the treatment she was receiving from her principal, Haley joined a group of elementary schoolteachers from Chicago in 1916 and went on to form the American Federation of Teachers, whose goal was to unify educators across the country.

Throughout the 20thCentury, the NEA and AFT would go on to fight for the rights of teachers, women, and minorities—not only revolutionizing the education profession by securing fair wages and safe working conditions—but also helping to bring equality to America’s marginalized groups along the way.

But in 2018, America’s two biggest teachers’ unions find themselves in a challenging situation. According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization, teachers’ unions may be losing power. She writes:

Make no bones about it. Teachers unions are reeling from a game-changing decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. . . . The public may not have much noticed, but unions feel they are standing at a precipice, not at all certain they can maintain the power they’re long accustomed to wielding.

After the high court sided with Janus in Janus vs. AFSCME, public-sector workers will no longer be required to contribute to their unions, something nearly half of all states — including Minnesota — require regardless of whether teachers choose to belong to the union. The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), having just held its annual convention in Minneapolis, expects to be hard hit. It’s anyone’s best guess how many of the 78,000 active teachers who currently contribute to the Education Minnesota union will opt out in the years ahead, but the initial hit will almost certainly include some 7,000 teachers who have already registered their discontent over having been forced to contribute.

Internal documents from the NEA predict the union could lose up to 300,000 members nationwide. The AFT, which has 15 of its 22 largest state affiliates in former agency-fee states, will be affected even more by Janus.

So why are teachers’ unions having such an issue with dues and membership? Union officials will undoubtedly point the finger at the Janus ruling, but this is by no means an adequate answer. The recent Supreme Court decision doesn’t bar educators from joining unions or paying dues, it simply gives them a choice. The real question that must be addressed is this: Why, if given the choice of joining a union and paying dues, are so many teachers opting out?

One major reason, other than simple finances, is that teachers’ unions have become far too political as of late. More specifically, they’ve veered too far left. According to Walsh, independent surveys consistently report that only half of all teachers see their union as “essential” and that many see “political activity as too leftist.”

Incredibly, only half of all teachers voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is quite concerning, given the fact that the NEA and AFT combined to donate $33 million to political campaigns in 2016—over 93 percent to Democrats. But the fact that the Democrats lost the Presidency in 2016 (and over 1,000 total seats, including the House and the Senate, during the Obama years), doesn’t seem to register with union officials. Instead of taking stock of the diverse political affiliations and interests of their members, the NEA and AFT have done the complete opposite: they’ve doubled-down on their polarizing agendas, becoming even more political and even more leftist than ever before.

At the NEA’s annual convention in Minneapolis early this month, the union presented former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick with their highest honor—the NEA’s President’s Award. Perhaps awarding Kaepernick, a man whom many see as disrespectful to law enforcement and the military, wasn’t the best choice when trying to increase union membership? That wasn’t the only thing that could be seen as polarizing by new teachers trying to decide if they want to become NEA members. According to the National Review:

The NEA adopted 122 total New Business Items, including commitments to promote the Black Lives Matter Week of Action (including supporting BLM’s demand that “ethnic studies be taught in pre-K-12 schools”), to support “a strategy postponing confirmation of a Supreme Court justice until after the mid-term election,” and to encourage teachers to assign readings that “describe and deconstruct the systemic proliferation of a White supremacy culture and its constituent elements of White privilege and institutional racism.” The NEA also promised to respond “in support of and in solidarity with immigrant families who are separated, incarcerated, or refused their legal right to request asylum due to the heartless, racist, and discriminatory zero-tolerance policies of the Trump administration.”

Basically, the NEA is saying screw you to any current or future member who supports the President, which is quite mind-boggling, being that nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump in 2016—over 105,000 of them from Philadelphia alone.

The AFT went hard left as well. They unanimously endorsed a “public investment strategy for health care and education infrastructure,” which includes free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and “taxation of the rich to fully fund” a raft of education programs.

Again, doubling-down on a socialist agenda might not be the best approach when trying to court future dues-paying union members, especially if the AFT is interested in any political diversity whatsoever (which clearly they’re not).

Remember: The Janus decision merely provides America’s teachers with a choice: To join/pay dues, or not to join/pay dues. The fact that more and more teachers are opting for the latter might be a wakeup call to union officials to become a little more politically diverse, or at least soften some of their left-leaning political agendas.

Advertisements

Public Servants Are Scapegoats for Private Sector’s Greed

by Christopher Paslay

 

“The economic and political landscape for public education, and for the people who work in our public schools, is as dangerous as I have ever seen.  In the guise of ‘reform,’ ‘efficiency,’ ‘shared sacrifice,’ and ‘belt tightening,’ efforts are under way in a number of states to gut collective bargaining, weaken public employees’ pensions, and offload public schools and services to the private sector.  It could take years—if not generations—to recover from the deep and continuing cuts to public education.  And many so-called reforms gaining traction will eliminate teacher voice and move us away from the goal of ensuring that all children have access to the excellent education they need to succeed in life.”

 

These are the words of Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, in her recent article “Your voice is essential to combat this crisis,” published in this month’s issue of American Teacher.  Weingarten goes on to call on AFT members and their allies at the national, state, and local levels to combat these threats through political action and promoting ideas for constructive change.

 

Weingarten’s focus on the threats against public employees is not new.  All across America, the fight to defend public services is being waged on many different fronts.  Interestingly, though, not much is being said about what actually caused the collapse of the nation’s economy and set in motion the circumstances that are wrongfully being pinned on schoolteachers, police, fire fighters, and public servants in general.   

 

National polls show the majority of Americans think public employees make too much money.  These polls also reveal that many Americans think public workers are greedy—that they are unfairly enjoying health benefits and pensions at the expense of overextended taxpayers.  Although there is no denying that many states are facing legitimate budget deficits, the notion that schoolteachers are greedy and overpaid—and a root cause of our nation’s financial woes—is absurd to say the least.

 

Public workers and their unions are not responsible for our country’s current economic recession.  To the contrary, it is the private sector that is largely to blame.  Accountants on Wall Street did their fair share to “cook the books” and disrupt the American stock exchange something awful.  Overinflated assets and underreported liabilities—not union greed—set the stage for the collapse of public pensions, hedge funds that had been stable for decades because millions of hard working public employees had been paying into them their whole careers.    

 

In addition to corrupt Wall Street accountants, both the real estate market and mortgage industry gamed the system and literally brought the American banking system to the brink of total collapse.  Phil Gramm, the ex-Texas senator and economic advisory to John McCain, was a major architect of the legislation that was a true catalyst to our country’s financial meltdown. 

 

In July of 2008, right before John McCain fired Gramm as his economic advisor for calling Americans “whiners” and denying the existence of an American recession, I wrote about Gramm’s sordid economic past and the need for McCain to cut ties with Gramm in a Philadelphia Daily News commentary:

 

“The collapse of the real-estate bubble, also known as the ‘sub-prime mortgage meltdown,’ has clear ties to Gramm. In December 2000, at the urging of lobbyists from Enron, Gramm pushed through Congress the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

 

Known as the ‘Enron loophole,’ this law protected financial institutions from overregulation by the government. In essence, it opened the door for something called ‘credit default swaps,’ and allowed many Americans with bad credit and no money to get mortgages they had no right receiving. Of course, when these same Americans defaulted on their mortgages, the result was billions of dollars in foreclosures.

 

The Commodity Futures Modernization Act is also associated with rising gas prices. Critics argue that this legislation is responsible for driving up the price of oil because it exempts energy speculators, who make trades electronically, from the regulation of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In other words, big banks are free to manipulate the price of oil by buying huge blocks of energy futures and driving up demand.

 

Not to mention that the ‘Enron loophole’ was a major factor in the Enron scandal, which wrecked the California electricity market and cost consumers billions. . . .”

 

Of course, Americans have short-term memories.  Amazingly, in the span of several years, we’ve forgotten all about Enron, Phil Gramm, credit default swaps, and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.  Somehow, in our out-of-sight-out-of-mind society, we’ve been duped into believing that public employees—schoolteachers, police, fire fighters and their greedy unions—are primarily to blame for the continuing mess that is known as today’s economy. 

 

Through clever politics, the corruptions of the private sector have been transformed into the sins of public servants. 

 

As Randi Weingarten suggests, these kinds of accusations are indeed dangerous.  Although public servants must make some sacrifices and do their part to help revive the economy, schoolteachers should not be attacked and manipulated by government officials in an effort to forward political agendas.         

 

And as the title of Weingarten’s article states, the voices of public servants are essential to combat this crisis.   

                 

Christopher Paslay is a Philadelphia schoolteacher and the author of “The Village Proposal,” to be published this fall.