California unions brace for a Supreme Court loss

California labor leaders sound almost apocalyptic when they describe a looming Supreme Court case that many of them concede likely will cost them members and money.

“Everything is at stake,” says Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Local 1000, state government’s largest union.

“It’s a blatant political attack,” says Eric Heins, the leader of the massive California Teachers Association.

“That’s a way that the corporations are trying to take our legs out from under us,” says Kim Cowart, a state registered nurse and SEIU union leader.

They’re alarmed by Janus vs. AFSCME, the Illinois lawsuit that challenges the rights of unions in 22 states to collect so-called “fair share” fees from employees who do not want to join bargaining groups but may benefit from representation. That practice has been legal and common since 1977, when the Supreme Court favored union arguments for fair-share fees in a lawsuit against the Detroit Board of Education. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Teachers union thwarts tenure reform attempt

Shirley WeberThe clout of the California Teachers Association was on full display last week when a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to reform a tenure law that can give lifetime job protections to teachers 18 months into their careers was abruptly withdrawn.

Since her election in 2012, Weber, a former school board president and college professor, has prodded her fellow Democratic lawmakers to not accept the California education status quo. Weber wants to make tenure rules more rigorous and like those in other states, to ensure the Local Control Funding Formula actually does what it was promised to do and helps English-language learners, and to seek state standards that make it easy to gauge whether schools are helping struggling minority students.

But Weber’s push for significant reforms have either been killed in the Legislature or by Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto pen.

Her latest reform measure, Assembly Bill 1220, would have delayed tenure decisions until a teacher’s third year on the job, but would have allowed marginal teachers additional time to establish their worthiness for tenure in a fourth year, and, in limited circumstances, a fifth year. Weber’s bill included a provision intended to make districts put more of an emphasis on professional development of marginal teachers.

The measure won early approvals and initially appeared relatively uncontroversial, with only five Assembly members opposing it in a preliminary June 1 vote. Weber supporters saw the provisions emphasizing helping struggling teachers as a valuable way to reassure teachers unions that the bill wasn’t an exercise in teacher or union bashing.

But later in June, the Assembly Appropriations Committee shaved off the fourth and fifth year tenure consideration provisions – without consulting Weber. Then, on July 6, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, gutted and amended AB1164, a bill he had introduced about foster care policies, so it offered an alternative to Weber’s bill. Thurmond’s version would in some cases allow struggling teachers to win tenure consideration after a third year.

The bill was knocked by reformers as unnecessarily complex and inferior to Weber’s. But its prime supporter – the CTA – quickly rounded up such support that Weber last week chose to withdraw her bill in hopes it could be revived in 2018.

Thurmond then withdrew his bill, suggesting it was only introduced as a way to block Weber and her proposal. Both are members of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

CTA expected to back lawmaker who thwarted bill

The EdSource website connected the maneuvering to Thurmond’s plan to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018 when incumbent Tom Torlakson is termed out. That’s because the CTA has already sent signals it will endorse Thurmond, who has established his pro-teacher union bona fides with such measures as proposing that teachers be given subsidized housing.

The CTA’s strong and early support of Torlakson was key to the low-profile Bay Area state lawmaker winning the superintendent’s job in 2010 after finishing second in the primary, and to his narrow 2014 win over fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck, a Los Angeles charter school advocate with backing from school reform groups.

Tuck has already announced he will seek the job again in 2018.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

New Teacher Tenure Bill Doesn’t Go Nearly Far Enough

Teacher tenureAs things stand, k-12 public school teachers in California are essentially guaranteed lifetime employment if they can get through their first two years on the job. This puts a lot of pressure on principals, as they must decide by March of a teacher’s second year – after just 16 actual teaching months – whether or not someone is good enough to spend their professional career influencing hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of young minds. About 98 percent of all teachers who seek tenure receive it in the Golden State.

There have been several attempts to tweak tenure or, more accurately, “permanent employment status.” In 2005, a ballot initiative would have extended the time it takes for a teacher to become a permanent employee from two to five years. But Prop. 74 went down to defeat, primarily because the California Teachers Association fought it tooth and nail, claiming it was an “attack on teacher due process.” (Wrong! As we have seen time and again, permanent status actually gives teachers “undue process.”)

Then, in 2012, along came Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs in this case argued that tenure (in concert with the seniority and dismissal statutes) causes greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” So it was a case of a kid’s right to a good education v. an adult’s right to a job, and after going through the courts the unions ultimately won and California’s children were the big losers.

But before the State Supreme Court officially put the kibosh on Vergara, Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) introduced Assembly Bill 934 in February, 2016. As originally written, the bill would have placed poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they received a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then, ratcheting up its propaganda, the union trotted out its standard diversionary tactics in proclaiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

Due to CTA arm-twisting, the bill was eviscerated so badly that most of its original supporters decided the cure had become worse than the disease, and it was eventually euthanized by the Senate Education Committee.

The latest attempt to rework teacher permanence comes from California State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. With the sponsorship of Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, two teacher-led activist organizations, the San Diego Democrat has introduced AB 1220, legislation that would extend the current time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. The bill would also allow some teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years an extra year or two in which they could get additional mentoring and be the recipient of other professional development resources.

So depending on the teacher’s effectiveness, the tenure perk would be moved from two to three, four or five years. As things stand now, a principal may not want to take a chance on a teacher who is not doing well in his first two years. But the added time frame might see that teacher blossom…or it might not. Hence, it’s a crapshoot for kids.

The only response from the teachers unions thus far comes from California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt, who says that the bill “really misses the boat in terms of what is needed to improve or make sure that beginning teachers are prepared and ready to assume a classroom.”

However union leaders may try to disparage the bill, it is hardly radical, as 42 states set tenure at three or more years. In fact, three states don’t offer tenure at all, which brings up the question of why do teachers need permanent status? Doctors, lawyers, bricklayers, carpenters and U.S. presidents have no such entitlements. Why teachers? The stock teacher unionista response  these days is that permanent status is important “so that I can advocate for my students without fear of losing my job.” This statement has been making the rounds for a while now and is just plain silly. What kind of teacher or principal would not “advocate for their students?” In fact, to really advocate for your students, you should demand an end to permanence. Period.  Thousands of students stuck with lemons, not to mention their parents and taxpayers, would be much better off.

There is no legitimate reason why we need a law on the books which enables just 2 teachers a year out of about 300,000 to be fired for incompetence, most especially in a state where student NAEP scores languish at the bottom of the barrel. And this is the biggest problem with AB 1220. What do you do with a burned out teacher who, after 20 years in the classroom, is just going through the motions, spending the day ignoring his students as he dreams of retiring to a beach in Hawaii in ten years on his big fat defined benefit pension? The answer is that you can’t do a damn thing.

That said, AB 1220 is better than the law on the books and should be supported…in its current uneviscerated form. But we really need to go much further and promote a system where a teacher must earn his right to stay on the job throughout his career… just like any other professional.

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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Teachers Union’s New Gambit to Cheat Taxpayers Annually

Teachers unionCalifornia is a fabulous place. Fantastic weather, fertile fields, glorious mountains and a thousand mile coastline have long beckoned many to the Golden State.

And then there is the state legislature.

This law-making body is very far from fabulous. Its main activities in our one-party state are taxing, spending and regulating our business community, workers and economy to death. Additionally, many of its members are in the pocket of the California Teachers Association, which is by far the biggest political spender in the state, unleashing $290 million on candidates and causes between 2000 and 2013.

The latest legislative sop to the unions is AB 2835, a CTA-co-sponsored bill that, if it passes, will force local governments, including school districts, to provide 30-minute in-person orientations, paid for by the taxpayer, to each and every new public employee during work hours within the first two months of their being hired. But as pointed out by several government officials in a piece that ran in the East Bay Times recently, cities, counties and special districts already do that, spending “the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.”

However, AB 2835 goes way beyond that, requiring local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation it provides – for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost no restrictions, to new employees. “It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.”

This requirement would place an enormous administrative burden on government, and it won’t come cheap. The California State Department of Finance has estimated that the mandate would cost taxpayers “more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”

AB 2835 would especially pose logistical problems for schools because the 30 minute orientation sessions would be held during the work day. Colleges, which have numerous collective bargaining units, would be especially affected.  As the Association of California Community College Administrators points out, allowing each collective bargaining unit 30 minutes to make a presentation, “will result in a significant length of time, which will require colleges to hire additional staff to cover classes and other critical campus safety services during the orientations.”

Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by a gaggle of labor organizations. In addition to CTA, the California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and SEIU are behind it. The opposition includes the California School Boards Association, the League of California Cities and the Association of California School Administrators.

Just as onerous as the cost and disruptiveness will be the quality of the orientation session. This is going to be a hard sales pitch, plain and simple. Or, in less polite terms, indoctrination. I guarantee that the results of a study released in April by the Heritage Foundation – which found that between 1957 and 2011, mandatory collective bargaining costs a family of four between $2,300 and $3,000 a year – will not be a topic of discussion.

Also missing from the pitch will be a recent study by Cornell researcher Michael Lovenheim. He found that “laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.”

Will the orientation stress that collective bargaining creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers? Or that it decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making? Or that it protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change? Or that it restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees? Nah.

AB 2835 was birthed when CTA leaders were frightened that the Friedrichs decision was going to go against them and decided they needed to deliver a sales pitch to teachers who would no longer be forced to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. But with Antonin Scalia’s death and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to rehear the case, this bill is irrelevant; CTA and the smaller California Federation of Teachers still have a captive audience. Just about every public school teacher in the state will continue to be forced to pay a union if they want a job in a public school. But if CTA and other unions still insist on trying to convince prospective members of their value, they should do it after hours and not ding the taxpayer in the process.

The bill sailed through the California State Assembly and now rests in the State Senate where it must be voted on by August 31sttomorrow, for it to become law. So, if you live in the Beholden State, please contact your state senator immediately and keep your fingers crossed. And should the bill become law, prepare for even more money to be transferred from your wallet to the unions’ already healthy coffers.

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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

State Tax Increase, Due to Expire in 2018, Might Live On

brown prop 30 california budgetIn 2012, Californians adopted Proposition 30, a “temporary” tax that, according to the governor, state legislators and teachers’ unions, would save the state’s education system by giving it an influx of at least $6 billion. The initiative jacked up income taxes on people earning more than $250,000 through 2018, and increased sales tax on everyone, through the end of this year. Now, the Golden State’s teachers’ unions, along with the Service Employees International Union, are looking to keep the higher income tax in place through 2030. (The sales tax increase will expire as scheduled.) California voters will decide on the tax extension in November, when the California Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016, or Prop. 55, appears on the ballot.

It’s no surprise that the teachers’ unions would want to keep the higher tax — and the additional revenues it brings — in place. Earlier this year, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins claimed that Prop. 30 generated revenues that “continue paying back schools from the years of devastating cuts — especially those serving our most at-risk students.” But there was never any devastation. During the recession, spending dipped for K-12 schools and community colleges, but the decrease was hardly devastating. And since the end of the recession, California’s education spending has increased more than 40 percent.

All the extra money has brought paltry results. The work of the late Andrew Coulson shows that between 1972 and 2012, California’s education spending (adjusting for inflation) doubled, but students’ SAT scores actually went down. Things have gotten worse since 2012. In fourth-grade math, California ranks at the bottom nationally, just one point above New Mexico, Alabama and Washington, D.C., according to November 2015 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card.” In fourth-grade reading, only New Mexico and D.C. fared worse.

A recent study on the relationship between spending and achievement, conducted in Michigan, found no statistically significant correlation between how much a state’s public schools spend and how well students perform. Mackinac Center education policy director Ben DeGrow, who coauthored the study, said, “Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best.” He added, “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”

And yet, the unions look to be in strong position to win their tax-hike extension. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in April found that 64 percent of Californians support it. Among likely voters, 62 percent favor it. More than six in 10 voters believe that the state should spend more on education. And after insisting that the tax would be temporary, Governor Jerry Brown is having second thoughts. In his May budget revision report, he said, “The emerging shortfall is in large part — but  not entirely — due to the expiration of the temporary taxes imposed under Proposition 30.”

Does the average voter know how much California already spends on education? Apparently not. A recent Education Next poll asked respondents to estimate per-pupil expenditures in their local school district. On average, the respondents guessed $6,307 — but their school districts spent nearly double that, or $12,440 per pupil in 2012, when expenditures for transportation, capital expenses, and debt service are included.

The CTA has already sunk $10 million into the Prop. 55 campaign, with more to come. The Million Voters Project, an effort funded by many left-wing philanthropists, is working hard to pass it. Supporters insist that the tax falls only on the wealthy, whom they claim don’t pay their “fair share.” A look at the numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top 1 percent of income earners across the nation paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income. Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.” At what point will California’s perennially overtaxed realize that their bottom line will be much healthier in, say, Texas?

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and other union leaders continue to believe that we can spend our way to academic success. All the data show otherwise. With a debt of more than $1 trillion and counting, along with some of the highest tax rates in the country, California can ill afford more spending. The state’s residents have to stop falling for myths about meager education dollars. Voting “No” on Prop. 55 would be a good place to start.

Teachers union has given more than $13 million to extend income taxes on wealthy Californians

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

California’s largest teachers union has given more than $13 million to the effort to extend income tax hikes on California’s highest earners, according to newly released state campaign finance reports.

The report shows the California Teachers Assn. gave $3 million between April and June this year, in addition to the $10 million the union donated last month.

Before the $10-million contribution, supporters of the Proposition 55 campaign reported having $14 million in the bank. Also supporting the measure are the California Hospital Assn., Service Employees International Union and the California Medical Assn. …

Click here to read the full article

Why Teachers Union is Desperate to Pass Prop. 55

K-12-spending-1California voters face a daunting challenge in November in that they’ll be asked to become familiar with a stunning 17 ballot measures. Some consultants fear that this will overwhelm many voters, who will choose either to vote no on everything or not vote on many initiatives.

But when it comes to Proposition 55, ignorance of its contents is not likely to be a problem for voters. The California Teachers Association and its allies are likely to spend $100 million or more on saturation TV and social media ads depicting the measure as crucial to the future of California public education.

Prop. 55 would extend for 12 years the temporary tax hikes on single people earning more than $263,000 and couples earning more than $526,000 that voters approved in 2012 (then at slightly lower income thresholds) as part of Proposition 30. Instead of sunsetting at the end of 2018, the income tax increase would continue through 2030. The $7 billion or more this is expected to generate annually would be earmarked for education. The temporary sales tax hike that voters also approved in 2012 will lapse at the end of this year.

Revenue recession took toll on teachers

prop 55 websiteThis month, the CTA wrote a $10 million check to the Yes on 55 campaign, which now has a $28 million warchest. The CTA and the smaller but still powerful California Federation of Teachers are likely to write several more checks that size to try to avoid the headaches that public school teachers faced from 2008 to 2012 during California’s long revenue recession.

While the “step” increases in pay that teachers typically receive in 15 of their first 20 years on the job were largely protected, strapped school districts didn’t grant additional across-the-board pay hikes that many provided during recent tech bubbles that pumped up capital gains revenue for the state. They also pushed for teachers to pay more toward their benefits and in some cases accept layoffs that extended beyond the newly hired to those with several years of experience.

As the Legislative Analyst’s Office graphic above shows, education spending has strongly rebounded since 2012, helped by a new boom in Silicon Valley and Proposition 30’s adoption that year. But the CTA and the CFT share Gov. Jerry Brown’sskepticism that the current good times can last. After first insisting that the temporary tax hikes must be allowed to expire because that’s what voters were promised, Brown has been far less vocal on the topic in the wake of new forecasts from his Department of Finance that state deficits are likely in coming years without retention of the income-tax hike.

Since state coffers are the main source of K-12 funding, Prop. 55’s approval is crucial to maintaining teachers’ pay and benefits. In most school districts, compensation eats up more than 80 percent of general fund budgets.

But Prop. 55’s route to passage may be rougher than Prop. 30’s in 2012. The Sacramento Bee editorial page has already saidthat support for extending the tax hikes should be explicitly linked to reforms in teacher tenure and to teacher unions’ support for state-subsidized childcare for poor families.

Some state lawmakers may also try to leverage their support for Prop. 55. Led by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, they are unhappy with how 2013’s Local Control Funding Formula has been implemented. The measure was supposed to pump billions of dollars in extra funding to districts with large numbers of English-language learners and foster children so they could provide help specifically for such students.

But three years in, education reform groups say that’s not happening, citing the absence of evidence of additional help for either category of student. Last year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the local control dollars could be used broadly for general pay raises, overruling a lower-ranking official.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Teachers Union Hits Taxpayers with ‘Money Club’ Again

government-voteThe California Teachers Association has just dropped $10 million into its campaign to extend the “temporary” income tax hike voters approved when they passed Proposition 30 in 2012. Proposition 55, which will appear on this November’s ballot, would extend the highest income tax rates in all 50 states for another dozen years.

Four years ago, the muscular union, called by many in Sacramento the “Fourth Branch of Government,” spent over $11 million to convince voters to increase sales and income taxes. The campaign, paid for by government employee unions and led by Gov. Jerry Brown, repeatedly promised voters the higher taxes would last only a few years and then go away.

These ultra-high tax rates are scheduled to end in 2018 and union leaders are panicking. If the tax increase ends, there may be less money to fund increases in member pay and benefits.

Spending big money on politics is not unusual for the deep pocketed CTA which receives its funding from mandatory dues. Those dues, withheld from members’ paychecks whether they like it or not, can total more than $1000 a year for a single teacher. Recall that CTA laid out $58 million in opposing several worthy reform measures in a 2005 special election including one reform that would have capped state spending. Union leaders like a guaranteed cash flow so it should come as no surprise if they put out an additional $10 million, or more, to support the Proposition 55 income tax extension. For backers of Proposition 55, spending millions in return for billions of tax dollars is considered a bargain.

The campaign will, no doubt, target low information voters with messages about how, “it’s for the children.” It is standard operational procedure for tax promoters to use children as human shields when advancing a tax increase tied to education. Not to be mentioned is that the union’s interest is solely in increasing pay and benefits, including generous pensions, for members who are already paid more than $20,000 above the national average. And don’t forget that a national education union leader once famously said “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”

Some will argue that ultra-high taxes should be maintained because public employees deserve to be well paid. They are. According the Department of Labor, California is the state with the best paid state and local government employees.

Our state is running a multi-billion-dollar surplus, yet Proposition 55 backers want to continue the ultra-high taxes that are already pushing businesses, and the jobs they provide, to relocate out of state. And it’s not just businesses. The list of high wealth individuals including professional athletes and entertainers who have bailed out of California is a mile long.

But the deleterious impact of high taxes is wholly lost on the union bosses. Their attention is, no doubt, on the latest news from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The second-largest U.S. public pension fund earned a paltry 1.4 percent return on investments in the fiscal year just ended, missing its target of 7.5 percent for the second straight year.  This raises questions about the fund’s management and whether or not it will be able to meet its obligation to 896,000 current and retired teachers.

Of course, taxpayers remain the guarantor of all public employee pensions so, in all fairness, the Proposition 55 income tax extension could come to be called the “pension tax.” And the teachers union is prepared to use its massive “money club” on voters to make sure Proposition 55 passes and the taxpayers’ dollars are there.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

California bill tackles teacher tenure, firing, layoff rules

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A California lawmaker is introducing legislation to answer a court ruling that could upend California’s teacher employment rules.

Currently on appeal, a 2014 decision in the Vergara v California lawsuit ruled unconstitutional laws that dictate how long it takes teachers to earn tenure, how underperforming teachers can be fired and how teachers are laid off during budget pinches. Judge Rolf Treu agreed with plaintiffs that the laws hurt disadvantaged students by keeping inept teachers in classrooms.

The group pursuing the lawsuit argues they went to the courts because a Legislature cozy with teachers unions will not act. Since Treu’s ruling, Republicans in the Democrat-dominated Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed bills to change teacher employment rules. They failed, opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions.

But Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, believes her new bill will …

Click here to read the full article

The Hypocrisy of Public Sector Unions

During the industrial age, labor unions played a vital role in protecting the rights of workers. Skeptics may argue that enlightened management played an equally if not greater role, such as when Henry Ford famously raised the wages of his workers so they could afford to buy the cars they made, but few would argue that labor unions were of no benefit. Today, in the private sector, the labor movement still has a vital role to play. There may be vigorous debate regarding how private sector unions should be regulated and what restrictions should be placed on their activity, but again, few people would argue they should not exist.

Unions pension public sectorPublic sector unions are a completely different story.

The differences between public and private sector unions are well documented. They operate in monopolistic environments, in organizations that are funded through compulsory taxes. They elect their bosses. They operate the machinery of government and can use that power to intimidate their political opponents.

Despite these fundamental differences in how they operate, public unions benefit from the still common perception that they are indistinguishable from private unions, that they make common cause with all workers, that they are looking out for us. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale.

Hypocrites regarding the welfare of our children

The most obvious example of public sector union hypocrisy is in education, where the teachers unions almost invariably put the interests of the union ahead of the interests of teachers, and put the interests of students last. This was brought to light during the Vergara case, which the California Teachers Association claimed was a “meritless lawsuit.” What did the plaintiffs ask for? They wanted to (1) modify hiring policies so excellence rather than seniority would be the criteria for dismissal during layoffs, (2) they wanted to extend the period before granting tenure which in its current form permits less than two years of actual classroom observation, and (3) they wanted to make it harder to dismiss teachers who were incompetents or criminals.

When the Vergara case was argued in court, as can be seen in this mesmerizing video of the attorney for the plaintiffs’ closing arguments, the expert testimony he referred to again and again was from the witnesses called by the defense! When the plaintiffs can rely on the testimony of defense witnesses, the defendants have no case. But in their appeal, the defense attorneys are fighting on. Using your money and mine.

The teachers unions oppose reforms like Vergara, they oppose free speech lawsuits like Friedrichs vs. the CTA, they oppose charter schools, they fight any attempts to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, and they are continually agitating for more taxes “for the children,” when in reality virtually all new tax revenue for education is poured into the insatiable maw of Wall Street to shore up public sector pension funds. No wonder education reform, which inevitably requires fighting the teachers unions, has become an utterly nonpartisan issue.

Hypocrites regarding the management of our economy

Less obvious but more profound are the many examples of public union hypocrisy on the issue of pensions. To wit:

(1)  Public pension systems don’t have to comply with ERISA, which means they are able to use much higher rate-of-return assumptions. Private sector pensions are required to make conservative investments and offer modest but financially sustainable pensions. Public pensions operate under a double standard. They make aggressive investment assumptions in order to reduce required contributions by their members, then hit up taxpayers to cover the difference.

(2)  One of the reasons you haven’t seen the much ballyhooed extension of pension opportunities to all workers in California is because the chances they’ll offer a plan where the fund promises a return of 7.0 percent per year are ZERO. Once they’re forced to disclose the actual rate-of-return assumptions they’re prepared to offer, and why, the naked hypocrisy of the public sector pension plans using higher rate-of-return assumptions will be revealed in terms everyone can understand.

(3)  When the internet bubble was still inflating back in the late 1990s, and stock values were soaring, public sector unions didn’t just agitate for, and receive, enhancements to pension benefit formulas. They received benefit enhancements that were applied retroactively. Public pensions are calculated by multiplying the number of years someone worked by a “multiplier,” and that product is then multiplied by their final salary (or average of the last few years salary) to calculate their pension. Retroactive enhancements meant that this multiplier, which was increased by 50 percent in most cases, was applied to past years worked, increasing pensions for imminent retirees by 50 percent. Now, with pension funds struggling financially, reformers want to decrease the multiplier, but not retroactively, which would be fair per the example set by the unions, but only for years still to be worked – only prospectively. And even that is off the table according to the unions and their attorneys. This is obscenely hypocritical.

(4)  Take a look at this CTA webpage that supports the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. What the CTA conveniently ignores is that the pension systems they defend are themselves the biggest players on Wall Street. In an era of negative interest rates and global deleveraging, public employee pension funds rampage across the globe, investing over $4.0 trillion in assets with the expectation of earning 7.0% per year. To do this they condone what Elias Isquith, writing for Salon, describes as “shameless financial strip-mining.” These funds benefit from corporate stock buy-backs, which are inevitably paid for by workers. They invest with hedge funds and private equity funds, they speculate in real estate – more generally, pension systems with unrealistic rate-of-return expectations require asset bubbles to continue to expand even though that is killing the middle class in the United States. This gives them common cause with the global financial elites who they claim they are protecting us from.

(5)  In America today most workers are required to pay into Social Security, a system that is progressive whereby high income people get less back as a percentage of what they put in, a system that is adjustable whereby benefits can be reduced to ensure solvency, a system that never speculates on the global investment market. You may hate it or love it, but as long as private citizens are required to participate in Social Security, public servants should also be required to participate. That they have negotiated for themselves a far more generous level of retirement security is hypocritical.

The hypocrisy of public sector unions isn’t just deplorable, it’s dangerous. Public unions have used the unfair advantages that accrue when they operate in the public sector to acquire power that is almost impossible to counter. Large corporations and wealthy individuals are the natural allies of public sector unions, especially at the state and local level, where these unions will rubber-stamp any legislation these elite special interests ask for, in return for support for their wage and benefit demands. Public unions both impel and enable corporatism and financialization. They are inherently authoritarian. They are inherently inclined to support bigger government, no matter what the cost of benefit may be, because that increases their membership and their power. They are a threat to our democratic institutions, our economic health, and our freedom.

And they are monstrous hypocrites.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.