February 2, 2002
I’ll bet virtually everyone in this room agrees that dramatic education reform is necessary. In my remarks today, though, I want to emphasize the importance of confronting the greatest underlying cause of education decline.
I regret to report that the President’s education bill fails to do so.
That cause is government-granted coercive power handed to political operatives masquerading as education professionals. But I’m not talking about the teachers themselves — they are often the victims.
I’m talking about officials of the NEA teacher union.
But first, let me briefly review how we got to where we are.
Most of you in this room have heard that in the last thirty years per pupil spending in public schools – measured in constant dollars – has increased by more than a factor of three.
And during the same 30-year period of burgeoning teacher union power and falling educational quality, what has been the mantra education establishment? More pay, smaller classes, and more spending.
This means more teachers paying more union dues, thereby providing greater political clout for the NEA bureaucracy.
Their goal, of course, is political power, not education. The principal means to that end is the funneling of forced union dues to politicians who support their agenda.
Think about it. If the union is able to elect the school board ? the union, in effect, sits on both sides of the bargaining table.
This clout is exercised effectively — and often viciously — to thwart efforts at meaningful education reform.
Now, what about school choice?
Many advocates of school choice argue that they are end-running the unions. But they fail to recognize that the union still has a toehold.
Union officials who enjoy monopoly bargaining powers are easily able to inject their influence into charter schools too — schools that had sought to break free from the same union power that has devastated public schools.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association union recently conducted an internal study that is remarkably candid about the union’s goals.
The report states, ?If we want to maintain our influence, our ability to do ANYTHING, we must make sure that education remains a unionized industry.?
After realizing the negative publicity they were receiving for opposing charter schools, teacher union bosses are now trying to co-opt charter schools. A recent NEA report on this new campaign is clear on what the end goals are for charter schools to ?maintain and increase union membership.?
With control of charter schools handed over to union officials, can we expect any different result than 30 years of union control in public education?
Just as union officials have set their sights on charter schools, they’ll be gunning for private schools under a voucher scheme.
As private schools become richer organizing targets, the compulsory unionism provisions in the federal law governing private business allows unions to get their claws into private schools, as well.
Let me be clear — my intention is not to criticize school choice. It’s to explain the importance of eliminating forced unionism.
So what can be done?
Breaking the grip of the teacher union officials is a two-step process. First, we must deprive them of the power to compel membership and the payment of dues. Secondly, we must remove their monopoly bargaining power — the privilege under which union militants are designated as exclusive representatives and permitted to speak on behalf of all teachers.
A recent comment by the Executive Director of the Iowa teacher union illustrates the importance of the first step – depriving them of the ability to extract compulsory dues.
When asked if the Iowa affiliate of the teacher union would be celebrating the NEA-mandated Lesbian & Gay History Month, Fred Comer, Executive Director of the Iowa NEA, declared: “Hell no, we don’t support it. Iowa is a Right to Work state, we have to earn our membership. If we supported that, we’d lose too many members.”
The second, and most fundamental step to breaking the teacher union stranglehold is eliminating the most insidious form of compulsory unionism called “exclusive representation” — more accurately called “the monopoly bargaining privilege.” This authority officially granted by 34 states enables union officials to dictate school policy.
What is little understood is the full extent to which union operatives use their monopoly bargaining power to exercise sweeping control over virtually everything that goes on in school?
Authority over compensation and assignments given individual teachers, authority over curriculum, textbooks and standards, and authority over which teachers get promoted and which ones are held back.
Teacher union power extends to the vital entities like peer review boards, curriculum and professional standards panels and in all other capacities where law, regulation or contract provisions require a “teacher representative.”
You see, whenever a contract, state law or regulation calls for a teacher representative to act in any decision-making capacity, the selection always comes back to the union brass. ALWAYS!
Why? Because in most states, the law declares that union officials are the “exclusive representatives” of the teachers. If fact, it’s illegal for a teacher to bargain individually with his or her employer.
As a result, it is the radical union hierarchy and no one else who is permanently installed in the driver’s seat.
Thus, it is the militants who get promoted, both within the union structure and on the job, while those teachers who are concerned primarily with education instead of political activism, are shoved aside.
So despite the talk about the Bush Administration’s education bill increasing local control and helping states to institute tenure reform, merit pay, and teacher testing ? under the current system of union monopoly control, the union hierarchy still holds the cards.
That’s why union shills in Congress like Ted Kennedy could go along with it.
You see, the teacher unions aren’t stupid ? they know that most people generally equate the union with that classroom teacher whom they know and respect, not with the hard-as-nails political entity that dictates school policy.
So sincere reformers should not fall into the trap of blaming teachers for education’s ills. It’s the system of privileges that allows union officials to coerce teachers, and politicians, to do their bidding.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee — are waging a two-pronged attack — legal and legislative — to roll back compulsory unionism.
The Foundation is defending teachers in over 100 cases nationwide. Most of these cases center around enforcement of a Supreme Court principle established by the Foundation that no one should be compelled to pay for union activities unrelated to collective bargaining, like politics.
The Committee closely monitors legislative action in all fifty states, and it is regularly battling toe-to-toe with the union lobbyists across the country as they seek to expand their compulsory dues and monopoly bargaining control over school teachers and other public employees.
We are pleased to report that the Committee carried forward to victory an eight year program to pass a Right to Work law in Oklahoma. Our targets are now Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Montana, Indiana, and Alaska.
In conclusion, let me sum up by saying that for meaningful educational reform to truly take place, the cancer of compulsory unionism must be removed from America’s educational system.
And I want to thank all of you out there who are working with us to do it.