Reflecting on Labor Unions on Labor Day
In a prior post, these words were written:
It is incredibly ironic that it is now the labor unions who spend lobbying monies like a Fortune 500 corporation – just so they can protect their powerful monopolies. Underperforming monopolies at that!…
[On the other hand], this belief in freedom also leads [others of] us to support school choice because we believe every poor inner city child should have the same educational opportunity that some of us – who are more economically fortunate – can “buy” for our own children…
Isn’t it ironic that conservatives are the ones pushing educational freedom for poor inner city children while the teachers’ unions want to keep those same children enslaved in their underperforming public school monopolies?…
On this Labor Day, to appreciate how labor unions have evolved into just another big business intent on promoting their own self-interest and maintaining their own economic and political power, reflect not on their public relations spin offered to the American public but focus rather on their actions:
A January 3 Wall Street Journal editorial (available for a fee) discusses the new Department of Labor disclosure requirements:
If we told you that an organization gave away more than $65 million last year to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, AIDS Walk Washington and dozens of other such advocacy groups, you’d probably assume we were describing a liberal philanthropy. In fact, those expenditures have all turned up on the financial disclosure report of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union.
Under new federal rules pushed through by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, large unions must now disclose in much more detail how they spend members’ dues money. Big Labor fought hard (if unsuccessfully) against the new accountability standards…They expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.
We already knew that the NEA’s top brass lives large. Reg Weaver, the union’s president, makes $439,000 a year. The NEA has a $58 million payroll for just over 600 employees, more than half of whom draw six-figure salaries. Last year the average teacher made only $48,000, so it seems you’re better off working as a union rep than in the classroom…
…”What wasn’t clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party,” says Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a California-based watchdog group. “They’re like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups.”…
When George Soros does this sort of thing, at least he’s spending his own money. The NEA is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA’s $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on “political activities and lobbying” and another $65.5 million on “contributions, gifts and grants” that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals.
The good news is that for the first time members can find out how their union chieftains did their political thinking for them…
It’s well understood that the NEA is an arm of the Democratic National Committee. (Or is it the other way around?) But we wonder if the union’s rank-and-file stand in unity behind this laundry list of left-to-liberal recipients of money that comes out of their pockets.
…the NEA also works though these same state affiliates to further its political goals by bankrolling ballot and legislative initiatives. To that end, the Kentucky Education Association received $250,000 from the NEA last year; the Michigan Education Association received $660,000; and the California Teachers Association received $2.5 million. We doubt this cash goes into buying more laptops for poor students.
And then there’s the money that the NEA sends directly to sympathetic interest groups working at the state level, such as the $500,000 that went to Protect Our Public Schools, an anti-charter outfit in Washington State (never mind that charters are “public schools,” albeit ones allowed to operate outside the teachers’ union education monopoly)…
A January 28 ProJo editorial added several other insights:
…The national NEA spent $47 million on “representational activities,” such as bargaining contracts; $25 million on political activities and lobbying; $64 million on overhead; and $65 million on contributions, gifts, and grants, many to political causes associated with the Democratic Party.
At the local level, National Education Association Rhode Island reported giving total compensation of more than $100,000 to nine people: Executive Director Robert Walsh ($142,015); Deputy Executive Director Vin Santaniello ($131,952); President Larry Purtill ($116,332); General Counsel John Decubellis ($109,862); Business Manager Walter Young ($106,306); and field representatives Jane Argenteri ($108,790), Jerry Egan ($110,111), Robert Roy ($103,985), and Jeannette Woolley ($107,252). Another four received total compensation of $86,000 or more.
The Rhode Island NEA spent $63,432 on “public relations” at Warwick’s Cornerstone Communications, the company of Guy Dufault, who last made news by promising to defeat Governor Carcieri by revealing the names of Mr. Carcieri’s apparently nonexistent girlfriends. Another $58,800 went to WorkingRI, a political group opposed to the governor also linked to Mr. Dufault.
(The Rhode Island chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also filed a report, showing five employees each receiving more than $100,000: President Marcia Reback [$128,542], Director of Professional Issues Colleen Callahan Delan [$116,243], and field representatives Robert Casey [$125,656], Michael Mullane [$116,243], and James Parisi [$116,243]. The AFT gave $5,000 to Cornerstone Communications, and $7,500 to the lobbying group Citizens for a Representative Government, also associated with Mr. Dufault, which helped block a constitutional convention in Rhode Island.)
If serving the unions’ economic interests is the goal, it is hard to argue that these local leaders have been overpaid.
How well that has served the state’s students is, of course, up for debate…
The 2006 NEA Rhode Island agenda calls for: increased spending on schools; reduced class sizes (translating into more teachers); shifting more of the burden of school spending onto state government from the localities; stopping privatization or outsourcing of jobs; revising pension reforms passed last year by the General Assembly; and removing any barriers on public employees’ and their spouses’ running for public office.
That is an agenda that would keep money and power flowing to the teachers’ unions, something they are well within their rights to seek. But it’s fair to ask how much good it would do our struggling students…
More and more, union leaders are also putting their organizations on the record on issues unrelated to labor or collective bargaining. The National Education Association spends less than 15 percent of its dues money representing members in the workplace, according to disclosure forms filed with the Department of Labor. It gives its leftover millions to groups that do such things as resist Social Security reform and litigate to prevent restrictions on abortion. It has also declared its support for a government-controlled and taxpayer-funded health-care system. Other unions advocate such causes as same-sex marriage, higher taxes (which their workers would have to pay), retreat from Iraq, and an amnesty for illegal immigrants that would adversely affect the wage growth of many union members.
In ages past, when the worker’s lot was much worse than it is today, union leaders stuck to what they did best: collective bargaining and improvement of work conditions. They fought for the well-being of their workers, but frequently opposed government intervention in the workplace, understanding that a free market would create jobs and opportunities for all. Today’s labor leaders simply fight to preserve their power, often at the expense of both the workers they represent and the country as a whole. Unfortunately, their closest political friends hold a majority in Congress.
Which is why Milton Friedman once said:
The president of the National Education Association was once asked when his union was going to do something about students. He replied that when the students became members of the union, the union would take care of them. And that was a correct answer. Why? His responsibility as president of the NEA was to serve the members of his union, not to serve public purposes. I give him credit: The trade union has been very effective in serving its members. However, in the process, they’ve destroyed American education. But you see, education isn’t the union’s function. It’s our fault for allowing the union to pursue its agenda. Consider this fact: There are two areas in the United States that suffer from the same disease—education is one and health care is the other. They both suffer from the disease that takes a system that should be bottom-up and converts it into a system that is top-down. Education is a simple case. It isn’t the public purpose to build brick schools and have students taught there. The public purpose is to provide education. Think of it this way: If you want to subsidize the production of a product, there are two ways you can do it. You can subsidize the producer or you can subsidize the consumer. In education, we subsidize the producer—the school. If you subsidize the student instead—the consumer—you will have competition. The student could choose the school he attends and that would force schools to improve and to meet the demands of their students.
There is a pro-jobs and economic growth alternative to the forced-dues mentality which stifles economic opportunities for hard-working people across America.
So who then “stands for progress, for protection of the interests and rights of the masses” so no American is enslaved? Who then believes most fervently in freedom, self-government, and enabling every American to live the American Dream?