Union political power is only as strong as its members’ willingness to give.

Last week, the American Federation of Teacher’s latest union financials (LM-2s) were released. Courtesy of Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, we learn that in 2011-2012, AFT spent $27 million to “preserve its influence.” Teachers unions spend money in a variety of ways, but the spending is typically about maintaining its power and aggressively promoting a very specific political agenda (all the while paying the union elite quite handsomely.)

On page 5 of this 205 page document, we learn that Randi Weingarten – who claims she identifies with the “99 percenters” and unceasingly promotes class warfare – pulled in a cool $556,981 in total compensation over the past year. This of course puts her, alongside the relentlessly vilified Koch Brothers, firmly in the 1 percent camp. Also, as summarized by Biddle,

Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson (who used to be the union’s executive vice president) picked up $381,614, a mere 3 percent increase. Francine Lawrence, who was elevated to Johnson’s former post (and was previously the head of the union’s Toledo local, best-known for its promoting of the less-than-useful peer review approach to teacher evaluation), earned $297,346 last fiscal year. When one adds in the salary of former Secretary-Treasure Antonia Cortese, the AFT paid its top three officials $1.4 million in 2011-2012, a 12 percent increase over the previous fiscal year… The union’s apparatchiks also earned plenty, but not as much as they did last year. David Dorn, the union’s director of international affairs, for example, collected $193,634 in 2011-2012, less than the $223,965 he made in the previous fiscal year; while the union’s general counsel, David Strom, earned $199,227, a decline from $201,472 in the previous year. Hartina Flournoy, the longtime Democratic Party operative who now serves as Weingarten’s assistant, did see a slight bump in pay (from $231,337 in 2010-2011 to $236,934 in 2011-2012).

While some of the union’s spending is on education-related matters, that money is typically targeted to fight any kind of meaningful reform. For example, in 2011, AFT engaged the NAACP, now on the union’s payroll, to file a lawsuit to keep some children in Harlem in their failing traditional public schools, instead of allowing them to attend nearby superior (non-unionized) charter schools. Also in 2011, AFT worked hard to eviscerate a Parent Trigger law in Connecticut. And then there are the ongoing battles; AFT regularly rails against teacher evaluation laws and virulently opposes any kind of school choice.

But much of the $27 million that AFT spent went to politics and non-education related causes. Not surprisingly, its political spending goes in only one direction – left. Here are a few examples of their largess:

  • Economic Policy Institute – whose mission “is to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would have been followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the leftist union party line.”
  • The American Prospect – an uber-lefty magazine.
  • The Center for American Progress – a progressive think tank.
  • Rainbow Push – Jesse Jackson’s shakedown organization.
  • National Council of La Raza.
  • American Labor Museum.
  • Various and sundry labor committees.
  • Progressive National Baptist Convention.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

To show how one-sided its political spending is, according to the Center for Responsive politics, in 2011-2012, the AFT spent $768,194 on Democrat candidates for office and $0 on Republicans. This clearly shows a deep disdain for any of its dues payers who happen to be Republican. (While polling numbers on this issue vary, it is safe to say that somewhere between a third and a half of all teachers are politically to the right of center.)

In 27 forced union states, public school teachers must pay to play. They are forced to fork over the part of union dues that is allocated for collective bargaining. But they are not required to pay the portion that is spent on politics. As such, it would behoove all conservative, centrist and politically disinterested teachers to opt out of paying the political part of their union dues. Why should teachers’ dues money go to candidates and causes that they don’t agree with and may indeed find abhorrent?

To avoid bankrolling the union’s political agenda, a teacher must resign from the union, and then ask for a rebate by a certain date every year. For more details on the opt-out process – pros and cons – please visit the website of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization I co-founded six years ago.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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