In an interview earlier this year, Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of DC Schools said that she didn’t have an issue with the teachers’ unions because they were just doing what unions do – looking out for the best interest of their members. While that may be true, she should have an issue because union members don’t include “the children,” whose best interest should be the focus of education.
A little known fact is that public sector unions did not exist until the late 1950s. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, considered by many to be a shining example of so-called “Progressives,” thought government unions were “unthinkable and intolerable.” Why? Because unlike their counterparts in private sector unions who see themselves as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create, government workers don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers, who don’t even have a seat at the negotiating table, as this video explains.
Even former AFL-CIO leader, George Meany, said
“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”
Headlines over the past few years are demonstrating the results of this collective bargaining failure at all levels of government. The bankruptcy of several cities in California, the PSERS crisis here in Pennsylvania, and the financial collapse of Scranton all have one thing in common - unsustainable public sector pay and benefit packages that have resulted from collective bargaining. California and Pennsylvania are not alone:
The Pew Center on the States recently concluded a study about pension, health care, and other retirement benefits that are promised to current and retired State Government Employees across America. The Pew Study found that American States have obligated themselves to future debts totaling $3.35 trillion to pay these benefits. The rub lies in the fact that these State Governments are short $1 trillion to meet these promises. Local Governments and the Federal Government are in the same predicament.
The article continues,
What happened across the country is that politicians created enormous future debts to public employee unions that translated into votes for them at the time, but placed incredible debt burdens on future citizens—bills that would come due long after the original politicians were out of office or even no longer among the living.
And that’s the point. The enormous liabilities and debt that these public sector collective bargaining agreements place on future
generations is obscene and downright immoral. This is why Michelle Rhee should take issue with the teachers’ union because saddling our children with debts they cannot even hope to pay because the adults in the union want Cadillac healthcare and retirement plans is certainly not in the best interest of those who they are supposed to serve—the taxpayers, and especially the children.
But, the insidious nature of government unions goes beyond the financial aspects. In Pennsylvania, the teachers’ unions forcibly collect dues as a condition of employment and then in turn use these dues to influence the political process to prevent legislation that would offer much needed relief to cities, municipalities and taxpayers. In Scranton, for example, a state law, Act 111, calls for compulsory interest arbitration during a labor impasse and requires municipalities to cover all costs of the arbitration process, including the cost for the arbitrator. This law has left the cash-strapped city “on the hook for a $30 million settlement with its local firefighters’ union.” Of course, the unions “are opposed to further changes to the law, but municipal groups like the League of Cities argue the binding arbitration law jeopardizes the financial future of many Pennsylvania cities.”
And that’s not the only reforms that the government unions in Pennsylvania stand against. Prevailing wage reforms, state liquor store privatization, school choice, and pension reform legislation has all been stymied by government union lobbyists who use the compulsory dues collected to buy politicians from both parties and their votes to ensure union-friendly policies remain at the expense of taxpayers. It is therefore very ironic that a taxpayer-funded historic marker commemorating public sector unionism in Pennsylvania stands at the foot of the steps of the state capitol.
The latest outrage comes from the Pennsbury School District in Bucks County where the teachers’ union is gerrymandering the district in an attempt to eliminate several staunch allies of the taxpayer and regain control of the school board. In the last two election cycles, pro-student, pro-taxpayer school board candidates have taken five of nine seats on the school board from former directors who were strongly pro-union. Now, in a recent letter obtained by a local taxpayer group, the local union openly admits to their state Bosses that they cannot win without manipulating how elections work in the district. If the union succeeds in implementing the redistricting plan, through which the 'teachers union seeks control of school board,' they will in essence render future contract negotiations unnecessary because those voting on the contracts will be the same as those benefitting from the contracts. And who will suffer? The taxpayers and the children who will be left holding the bag for the lucrative, reckless, and unsustainable contracts that will result.
“Big unions” are just as much of a threat to freedom, liberty, individual rights and the future of America as “big business” when they combine forces with “big government.” In reality, both unions and business can be guilty of political cronyism as both are nothing more than special interests. Many, including the Occupy Movement, complain that banks and corporations manipulate the government to allow huge salaries and bonuses for their CEOs, but isn’t that exactly what the government unions do? A recent story exposed the lucrative pay increases that the leaders of the nation’s teachers’ unions received last year.
Teachers across the country face pay freezes and possible layoffs, but the heads of the two biggest teachers unions saw their pay jump 20 percent last year, to nearly half a million dollars apiece.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten's pay jumped to $407,323 between 2010 and 2011, while her counterpart at the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel, got a raise to $362,644. Factor in stipends and other paid expenses and Weingarten took in $493,859 and Van Roekel $460,060 for 2011.
So it looks like Michelle Rhee was wrong. In addition to neglecting the best interest of the children, the teachers’ unions aren’t really looking out for the best interest of their members after all.