What if California’s Government Never Unionized?

UnionA story that still makes the rounds in Sacramento is that Gov. Jerry Brown, speaking off-the-record to a group of business leaders back around 2009, admitted that the worst political decision of his life was signing legislation to permit public employees to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

Whether or not Gov. Brown actually said this, it is tantalizing to wonder what California would be like if over 1 million state and local government workers did NOT belong to a labor union. How would things be different?

Perhaps the biggest casualties of public employee unionization are California’s public schools. In 1975 the California Teachers Association (thanks to Brown signing the Educational Employment Relations Act) transitioned from being a professional association into a labor union. The negative consequences are far reaching.

The obvious way that unionizing teachers harms public education are the many work rules that have been negotiated. It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher for poor performance, instead – as was argued in the Vergara case, bad teachers get transferred to schools in disadvantaged communities where competent teachers are most needed. When layoffs occur, seniority is prioritized over merit. And tenure, i.e., lifetime employment – a concept originally developed in universities to protect free scientific inquiry –  is granted K-12 teachers after less than two full years of classroom evaluation. All of this guarantees that California’s public schools do NOT have the caliber of educators they could, and union work rules are the reason why.

The less obvious ways unionizing teachers have harmed public education are equally significant. The rhetorical focus of unions is inherently adversarial. Us vs. them. Worker vs. oppressor. In California this rhetoric has been politicized by the left-wing activists who dominate the positions of leadership in the teachers unions. From the top down, it permeates public education, indoctrinating teachers and students with a one-sided, confrontational world view. Students are taught that Western Civilization is the villain of history, that “people of color” are always discriminated against, that “gender” is arbitrary, and that authoritarian solutions are necessary to protect the environment. Almost none of this is true, but nearly two generations of Californian voters were immersed with this propaganda throughout their K-12 years.

Union work rules haven’t just protected bad teachers while driving good ones out of the profession. This is true throughout the public sector, from teachers to public safety to bureaucrats. And thanks to unions, pay is not only disconnected from performance, but the rate of pay has gone out of control. California’s public servants, on average, now collect pay and benefits that are twice what a private sector worker earns for full time work.

Public sector benefits are even more out of control than public sector pay – a public sector retiree in California after a 30 year career can expect a pension that is 26 percent more than private sector workers still on the job; four-times what the average retiree can expect from Social Security.

Other than driving California’s cities, counties and state government to the brink of bankruptcy, and nearly destroying our system of public education, what are the other consequences of unionized government? That answer is simple – they have taken political control of every supposed democratic institution in the state. Their political spending – they collect and spend over $1 billion in dues every year – dwarfs that of any other special interest. Their financial clout over politicians, combined with their influence over thousands of career operatives throughout the state’s regulatory agencies, force all other special interests to go through them. If you want legislation passed, you have to make deals with the government unions.

The core moral principle of unions, collectively standing up to oppression, is perverted in the public sector. Government workers, if anything, are tools of oppression, not victims of it. As it is they have set up two classes of citizens in California. Unionized government workers have job security, health security, retirement security, and pay scales that help to exempt them from the consequences of a politically contrived, punitively high cost of living. And then there are private sector workers, who have none of these privileges, yet pay the taxes to support this.

Unionized government protects its own interests before the public interest. It destroys public financial health, it undermines democracy, but worst of all, it takes away the sense of shared fate that is perhaps the most essential precondition for good government.

Imagine California without government unions. Public education would work because teachers and administrators could be held accountable. Policies to create prosperity and abundance would be endorsed by all voters, because all voters would share in the benefits. Government agencies at all levels would be lean and efficient because a billion dollar per year lobby perpetually favoring bigger government would not exist. Oligarchs and authoritarians would not have access to an omnipotent broker controlling the levers of power, which they could cozy up to for the benefit of the few, to the detriment of the many.

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research for the California Policy Center.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

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

California Supreme Court Strikes Down Vergara Appeal

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hHere’s an axiom of California politics. When it’s the teachers union against everyone – that’s right, everyone else – the teachers union wins. Yesterday’s decision by the California Supreme Court to not hear the Vergara case is just the latest example.

Prior to losing on appeal, which brought the case to the attention of the State Supreme Court, the original Vergara ruling upheld the argument of the plaintiff, which was that union supported work rules have a disproportionate negative effect on poor and minority students. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in June 2014:

“Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu tentatively ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violated students’ rights to equal educational opportunity. Treu struck down state laws that grant teachers tenure after two years, require seniority-based layoffs and govern the process to dismiss teachers. He ruled that those laws disproportionately harmed poor and minority students… [writing:]

‘All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. All sides also agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school. Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.’”

And the evidence was indeed compelling. Watch these closing arguments in the case, and note that the plaintiff’s attorney used the testimony of the expert witnesses called by the defense attorneys to support his arguments!

But it isn’t just the union’s hand-picked experts who are against the teachers unions, when they reveal under cross-examination that union work rules indeed harm students, and disproportionately harm low-income and minority students. It’s every interest group, every stakeholder. Why, for example, would a teacher want to work in an environment where you come in and you care about students and you’re talented and you work very hard to get through to all of your students and get good educational results, and in the classroom right next to you somebody just shows up every day and doesn’t do anything? They make as much money as you do, and if they stick around, they get increases every year just like you will. If they are incompetent, they will not be fired. And if there’s a layoff, if they’ve been on the job one year longer than you, they’ll stay and you’ll go.

No wonder there’s a teacher shortage. Consider these statistics that measure teacher sentiments regarding the work rules that were challenged by the Vergara plaintiffs:

  • Teacher effectiveness should be a factor in granting tenure:
    72% of teachers agree, 93% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if it were easier to dismiss ineffective teachers:
    62% of teachers agree, 89% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if layoff decisions took teacher effectiveness into account:
    67% of teachers agree, 83% of principals agree.

Then there’s the social agenda of the teachers union. Their social agenda, in essence, is to indoctrinate California’s students – most of whom are people of color, and millions of whom are members of recent immigrant families – into believing they live in a racist, sexist nation, where they are condemned to lives of discrimination and thwarted achievement, when precisely the opposite is the reality. In reality, America is the most tolerant nation in world history, rejecting sexism and racism, and has provided opportunities to people of all backgrounds in measures that dwarf all other nations and cultures. But not according to the teachers union.

But this is California, and what the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets.

One small encouraging sign is the fact that two of the three dissenting attorneys are Brown appointees. The fight is bipartisan. It’s disappointing that judges appointed by Wilson and Schwarzenegger ruled against the plaintiffs, and it is possible that part of their motivation was judicial restraint, i.e., to not legislate from the bench.

Which leaves the legislature to change these rules that are destroying public education in California – jobs for life after two years, nearly impossible to fire incompetents, and seniority over merit in layoffs. Virtually any honest legislator in Sacramento will admit, off the record, that they don’t agree with the agenda of the teachers union. Plenty of retired democrats, including Gloria Romero, former Senate Majority Leader, and Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles, have leveled withering criticism at the teachers union. But active politicians are targeted for political destruction if they stand up to the union machine, and they toe the line.

Parents, students, judges, legislators, and teachers themselves are all subordinates of the teachers union. It will take an extraordinary combination of bipartisan cooperation and raw political courage to change the status quo. But let’s be clear – the teachers union has won again, and everyone, everyone, was on the other side.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Quality Education Remains Thwarted by Teachers Unions

shocked-kid-apAn article in today’s American Prospect, of all places, offers an in-depth look at just how little progress has actually been made toward restoring quality education to California’s public school students. Because the article appears in a publication that is “dedicated to American liberalism,” and because “American liberalism” depends more than anything else on billions in annual political contributions from government unions, you almost have to read between the lines to realize who the bad guys are.

Nonetheless, “California’s Ed Reform Wars,” by Rachel Cohen, all 3,200 words of it, is a fine piece of work. Read it closely, if you can stomach the facts. The bad guys – a matter of opinion, of course – are the government unions. The victims? California’s students, and the future of this great state.

Covered first is the uncertain fate of the Vergara case, funded by wealthy activists – many of them liberals – in the Silicon Valley. The plaintiffs are public school students whose case was founded on the argument that union work rules, specifically the policies governing tenure, layoff and dismissal policies, cause disproportionate harm to students in low-income communities. During round one, two years ago in a Los Angeles courtroom, reformers were mesmerized by the brilliant closing arguments of the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, along with the ruling by the judge in the case, who emphatically agreed.

That was then. In April of this year, by a 3-0 vote, the California Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the original Vergara v. California decision. The case will now go to the California Supreme Court. Its chances aren’t great.

But shouldn’t elected officials, not the courts, make policy decisions? In a perfect world, that would certainly be true, but in California’s state Legislature, as Cohen herself writes, “Following the original Vergara decision, Republican lawmakers introduced a package of three bills to extend the time it would take a teacher to earn tenure, to repeal the “last-in, first-out” statute that makes layoff decisions based on seniority, and to establish an annual teacher evaluation system. These bills, however, got nowhere in the Democratic-controlled statehouse.”

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because then a democratic assemblywoman who takes money from government unions, Susan Bonilla, tried to push legislation through that might reform at least some of the employment statutes that protect bad teachers. Cohen writes:

“Bonilla proposed, among other things, giving principals the option of waiting until a teacher’s third or fourth year to grant tenure, and placing poorly performing teachers in a program that would provide increased professional support. If the ineffective teacher received another low performance rating after a year in this program, Bonilla’s legislation would enable schools to fire the teacher through an expedited process.”

Might that be watered down enough? Might that not have a chance? For the children?

Forget it. Despite endorsements including one from the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, the teachers union issued an “action alert” to their members, calling the bill “an all-out assault” by “corporate millionaires and special interests.” The bill was going to go nowhere in California’s union-controlled legislature. So Bonilla tried again. As Cohen reports:

“In June, Bonilla introduced an amended version of her bill, one that would require new teachers to work for three years before becoming eligible for tenure. Her bill no longer included provisions to create a new teacher evaluation system, to require teachers with poor performance reviews to be laid off before those with less seniority, and to remove many of the dismissal rules that administrators found frustrating.”

Not much left there. Just a bill to marginally extend the probationary period before teachers acquire tenure. But still it was opposed by the unions, and it died in committee by a vote of 9 to 2. The two legislators who voted in favor were due to be termed out and therefore could vote their consciences.

When it comes to government unions, perhaps the teachers union most of all, the lack of support for bipartisan reform is not a mystery. Government unions in California collect and spend over $1 billion each year, which gives them the ability to financially dominate any election, anytime, anywhere, whenever they choose. But there’s more to it. These unions use their financial and organizational power to anoint not only politicians, but also bureaucrats, teachers, and anyone in the business community who may have any need to work with the government bureaucracy. They can anoint, or they can target. Best friend or worst enemy? Take your pick.

Liberals know this, but they tolerate the teachers union because along with all that money the union gives their candidates, the union political agenda matches their own – bigger government, more regulations. They don’t understand, course, that more regulations favor big business and destroy entrepreneurs who deliver the competitive innovations that have improved our lives. And they certainly don’t put enough importance on innovation in education.

Someday liberals may care enough “for the children” to stand up to the teachers union. Don’t hold your breath.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

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.

Landmark California teacher case enters next phase

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A court case with the potential to upend how California hires and fires teachers enters a new phase today.

The initial ruling in Vergara v California dealt a direct challenge to the state’s educational status quo. It deemed unconstitutional laws that govern when teachers get tenure, dictate how they are fired, and mandate that rookie teachers go first in times of budget-driven layoffs. It handed education reformers a major victory in a national fight over teacher employment, all the more significant because it happened in California, a state where the California Teachers Association holds significant sway in the Capitol and lawmakers reject the types of changes at stake.

Oral arguments on the appeal happen today at the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. In the state’s corner is the CTA, which has assailed the lower court ruling and joined California in filing an appeal. They’ll share oral argument time with the state today; their national teachers union brethren have weighed in, too. The plaintiffs have high-power attorney Theodore Boutrous, Jr., who helped argue the successful challenge to Proposition 8 and is representing Apple in its clash with the feds. …

Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public

Unions pension public sectorCalifornia’s public sector unions collect and spend well over $1 billion per year. When you have that much money, you can hire thousands of skilled professionals to wage campaigns, litigate, lobby, negotiate and communicate. You can hire the best public relations firms money can buy. You can commission research studies that spin facts to support your agenda. You can silence voices of dissent, voices of reason, voices of reform, with an avalanche of misinformation. And it works.

Here, then, for what it’s worth, is a “top 10” list of some of the biggest deceptions and misleading claims made by California’s government unions.

1 – Government unions are protecting the middle class.

FALSE. Government unions are protecting government workers at the expense of the private sector middle class. The agenda of government unions is more wages and benefits for government workers, and more hiring of government workers. To adhere to this agenda, failure of government programs still constitutes success for these unions. More laws, more regulations and more government programs equates to more unionized government workers, regardless of the cost, benefit or need for these programs. The primary agenda of unionized government has nothing to do with the welfare of the private sector middle class, whose taxes pay for it.

2 – Government unions are a necessary political counterweight to “Wall Street,” big business and billionaires.

FALSE. When government is expanded to serve the interests of government unions, the elite and privileged special interests are relatively unaffected, and often benefit. Large corporations can afford to comply with excessive regulations that drive their emerging competitors out of business. When governments borrow to finance deficits created by an over-built unionized government, bond underwriters profit from the fees. Government pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, aggressively investing hundreds of billions each year to secure their 7 percent (or more) per year returns. Billionaires can afford to pay taxes and fees – it’s the middle-class taxpayer who can be overwhelmed by them. When powerful special interests want favorable legislation passed in California, they go to the government unions and make a deal. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of special interest cronyism. They are allies, not counterweights.

3 – Government unions represent and protect the American worker and the labor movement.

union collective bargaining public sectorFALSE. For better or worse, government unions represent and protect government workers. Government unions and private sector unions have very little in common. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses, and their agencies are funded by compulsory taxes, not through profits earned by creating products and services that are voluntarily purchased in a competitive market. Moreover, government union members operate the machinery of government, giving them the ability to harass their political opponents under cover of authority. Private sector unions – properly regulated – have a legitimate role to play in American society. Government unions, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of government workers, not the ordinary American citizen.

4 – Public employees are underpaid.

FALSE. In past decades, prior to the unionization of government, a public worker exchanged lower base pay for better retirement benefits and more job security. But today, not only have retirement benefits been greatly increased from what was normal back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in most cases the base pay of government workers exceeds the base pay for private sector workers performing jobs requiring similar skills. A 2015 study by State Budget Solutions estimated the total compensation of California’s government workers to exceed private sector workers by 31 percent. But these studies typically omit lower paid independent contractors who now constitute one in three workers. A California Policy Center study that examined 2012 data showed the average pay and benefits for California’s city workers was $124,058, county workers $102,312, and state workers $100,668. And this study did not take into account the value of additional paid vacation benefits, extra paid holidays, and generous “comp time” policies, which add significantly to the total value of annual compensation. Just how much public employee pay exceeds private sector pay for equivalent jobs is the topic of ongoing debate. But they’re not underpaid by any reasonable measure.

5 – The average public sector pension is only $25,000 per year (or some similarly low number).

FALSE. The problem with this profoundly misleading statistic is that this low average is the result of including participants who only worked a few years in state/local government, barely vesting a pension. Should someone who worked less than a decade (or two) in a job expect a pension based on a full career of service? When normalizing for 30 year careers and taking into account the uptick in retirement benefit formulas that rolled through California starting in 1999, the average state/local retiree in California collects a pension and retirement health benefit package worth over $70,000 per year. For a private sector taxpayer to collect this much in retirement, they would have to save at least $1.5 million. If public pensions weren’t so generous, these pension systems would not face severe financial challenges. Which brings us to the next myth …

6 – California’s state/local pension systems are being reformed and will be just fine financially.

FALSE. Virtually every official post-reform projection among California’s 80+ public sector pension systems are predicting eventual financial health based on a huge, extremely risky assumption – that the average annual returns of these funds over the next few decades will exceed 7.0 percent per year. Common sense should tell any unbiased observer that ongoing 7.0 percent average annual returns are not a safe bet. If they are, why are Treasury Bills only yielding 3.0 percent? What are mortgage bankers only able to get 3.5 percent on 30 year fixed mortgages? Why are bank CD’s only offering 2.0 percent? The spread between equity returns and truly risk-free returns has never been this large for this long. Pension funds are basing future performance projections on past results. The problem is that over the past 30 years, interest rates have been steadily lowered to allow people to borrow more. This borrowing stimulated the economy, creating corporate profits and driving up the price of corporate equities. But interest rates cannot be lowered any further. We are at the end of a long-term credit cycle, and pension funds are just beginning to deal with the consequences.

7 – The teachers unions care about student achievement more than anything else.

FALSE. The evidence simply doesn’t support this assertion. Consider the reaction of the California Teachers Association to the recent Vergara decision, in which a Los Angeles superior court judge agreed with student plaintiffs who challenged three union work rules. The CTA criticized the ruling and announced their support for an appeal. What does the Vergara lawsuit aim to accomplish? It would take away the ability for teachers to earn tenure in less than two years. It would end the practice of favoring seniority over merit when deciding what teachers to layoff. And it would make it easier to fire incompetent teachers. These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that the teachers unions oppose.

8 – Billionaires are trying to hijack California’s public education system.

FALSE. To the extent wealthy individuals have decided to involve themselves in education reform and private education initiatives, they come from a diverse background of political orientations. But all of them share a desire to rescue California’s next generation of citizens from a union monopoly on education. And unlike the unionized traditional public school, public charter schools and private schools survive based on the choice of parents who want a better education for their children. And if they don’t do a great job, the parents can withdraw their children from the failing charter or private school. Introducing competition to California’s unionized K-12 education system is a healthy, hopeful trend that gathers support from concerned citizens of all incomes, ethnic groups, and political ideologies.

9 – Proponents of public sector union reform are “anti-government workers.”

FALSE. This sort of claim is a distraction from the reality – which is that public sector unions have corrupted the democratic process and have been attempting to inculcate public employees with the “us vs. them” mentality that is the currency of unions. Sadly, the opposite is the truth – government unions alienate the public from their government, and, worse, alienate government employees from the public. They have created two classes of workers, government employees who have superior pay, benefits, job security and retirement security, and everyone else in the private sector. They know perfectly well that this level of worker comfort is economically impossible to extend to everyone. Government unions have undermined the sense of common rules and shared fate between public and private individuals that is a foundation of democracy. Those who oppose government unions recognize this threat. It has nothing to do with their support and respect for the men and women who perform the many difficult and risky jobs that are the role of government.

10 – Opponents of government unions are “right wing extremists.”

FALSE. The problems caused by government unions should concern everyone, and they do. Conscientious left-wing activists who favor an expanded role for government expect positive results, not failed programs that were created merely to increase union membership. They realize that unionized government is expensive and inefficient, leaving less money or authority to maintain or expand government services: Public libraries and parks with reduced hours and curtailed maintenance; pitted, congested roads; after school recreation programs without reliable funding; public schools where students aren’t learning and apathetic teachers are protected from accountability. Government has to be cost-effective, no matter how big or how small. Opponents of government unions can disagree on the optimal size of government, yet passionately agree on the problems caused by a unionized government.

This list of 10 myths promulgated by spokespersons for government unions only begins to chronicle their many deceptions. But each of these myths offer strategic value to these unions – giving them the ability to put reformers on the defensive, change the topic of discussion, redefine the terms of the debate. Each of them has powerful emotional resonance, and each of them – along with many others – is continuously reinforced by a network of professional communicators backed by literally billions in dues revenue.

Compensation reform, pension reform, other fiscal reforms, reforming work rules, education reform – all these urgent reforms must first go through one powerful special interest that stops them in their tracks: Government unions. Reformers must confront not only the myths these unions promote, challenging and debunking them, but they must also redefine the role of government unions, if not question their very existence.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Beware of Union-Led Anti-Republican Politicking in Your Kids’ Classrooms

I watched the GOP presidential debate because my students are counting on me” is the title of a piece posted on the National Education Association website by “guest writer” Tom McLaughlin, a high school drama teacher from Council Bluffs, IA. He claims that “… in addition to this debate, I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students.” (Hmm – just why is a drama teacher delving into politics with his students? Brought back memories of a Che Guevara poster prominently displayed in the music teacher’s class at my former middle school.)

So in any event, I’m thinking this will be a commentary about Common Core, since it garnered the only discussion of education at the first Republican debate in Cleveland last Thursday. In reality, that issue provoked a brief back-and-forth between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio which really didn’t shed much light on the subject. But the words “Common Core” never appear in the piece by McLaughlin. Instead, the drama teacher’s “truth sharing” includes comments like:

Many of the candidates on last night’s stage have clear records of draining critical funding away from public schools to give to private schools, supporting charter schools that are unaccountable to students, parents and taxpayers, and slashing education funding and those programs that serve students and help them in the classroom.

As educators and trusted messengers in our communities, we must make sure the public is informed and not fooled by presidential candidates who say they believe in a world-class education system but have a history of starving our public schools of critical funding and supporting flawed so-called reforms that don’t work.

Obviously McLaughlin never intended to report on the debate, but rather to deliver a diatribe infused with standard teacher union talking points against any and all who favor reform and dare have an “R” after their names. (Curiously, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush all took shots at the teachers unions during the debate and there was no mention of them in McLaughlin’s critique.)

Over at the “NEA Votes” Facebook page, the union faithful were having a field day with McLaughlin’s post and the debate. With one or two exceptions, the comments were posted by pro-union mouthpieces using the same tired talking points that the union elite use. Perhaps the loopiest of all was a post that equated conservatism with Fascism:

The scary part of all this is that these teachers, who don’t seem to have an objective bone in their collective bodies – and are proud of it – have a captive audience of children, many of whom will be the recipients of their teachers’ anti-reform, anti-school choice and anti-Republican rhetoric leading up to the presidential election in 2016.

If you are a Republican parent (or just a fair-minded one of any political persuasion), please be ready for the political onslaught supporting the Big Government-Big Union complex (aka the Blob) your kids may be in for. When the indoctrination starts, don’t be shy about speaking up. Please mention to anyone who is spouting the union party line (and your kids) that in Jeb Bush’s Florida, there are more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts and 14,000 of them have chosen to work in charter schools. They’ve made these choices for the same reason parents do – because charters offer a better fit for their individual needs.

Tell them that despite McLaughlin’s absurd comment, charter and private schools are indeed accountable … to parents. If parents aren’t happy with those schools, they close, unlike traditional public schools which are accountable to no one and typically get more money thrown their way if they are failing.

Tell them that we have tripled our public education funding nationally – in constant dollars – over the last 40 years and have nothing to show for it.

Tell them that Wisconsin’s test scores have risen since the teachers unions’ favorite Republican punching bag Scott Walker has been governor.

Tell them that homeschooling is advancing across the country – especially in big cities – because parents of all political stripes are tired of a one-size-fits-all Blob education.

Tell them that in California, the Blob is under attack and that the effort is bipartisan. The StullReed and Vergara lawsuits, all of which have successfully challenged Blob work rules like tenure and seniority and fought to get a realistic teacher evaluation system in place, have seen Republicans and Democrats working together to undo the mess that McLaughlin and his ilk have helped to create.

Perhaps most importantly explain that when it comes to education policy reform, the battle is not typically between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but rather between those who defend the status quo and those who are demanding reasonable reforms to an outsized, outdated, outmoded and out-of-touch educational system.

When I was growing up, I never had a clue what my teachers’ politics were. They understood they were not there to indoctrinate me. Accordingly, I followed suit when I taught public school for 28 years. But there are many now who have decided not to check their politics at the classroom door, instead bringing it to their students with a religious zeal that makes Elmer Gantry look like a wallflower. Many teachers now take their cue from the likes of National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks who, at the recent NEA convention, told his flock that teachers need to become “social justice warriors.”

Silly me, all along I thought teachers were there to teach.

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.

High Court to Hear California Teachers’ Challenge to Union Dues

From KQED:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider limiting the power of government employee unions to collect fees from non-members in a case that labor officials say could threaten membership and further weaken union clout.

The court announced Tuesday that justices will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an appeal from a group of California teachers who say the fee requirement violates their First Amendment rights to have to pay any fees if they disagree with a union’s positions and don’t want to join it.

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