Unions are still treacherous, but with a generous helping of legislative malfeasance, their tactics are more subtle.
“On the Waterfront” portrayed union power at its rawest. In the 1950s, the unions typically got their way with nothing less than brute force. But today the tactics are different. In “Pretty Boy Floyd,” Woody Guthrie sang, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The unions are well entrenched in the “fountain pen” camp and recently, Illinois has been in their crosshairs.
In September, the Chicago Tribune broke a story about Dennis Gannon, a former sanitation worker who became a president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. He went back to work for the city for one day, then took a leave of absence and was legally allowed to collect a $158,000 pension, about five times the average sanitation worker.
Shortly after that, again in Chicago, two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience similarly gamed the system by taking advantage of a new law.
“The legislation enabled union officials to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom. They just had to do it before the bill was signed into law.
“(Lobbyist) Preckwinkle’s one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He’s 59, and at age 60 he’ll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.
“His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.
“His pay for one day as a substitute was $93, according to records of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.”
In a higher profile case, Reg Weaver was a teacher in Danville earning $60,000 a year. He worked his way up the union food chain and became National Education Association president in 2002. Termed out in 2008, he now makes a yearly $242,657 teachers pension. Weaver has the audacity to defend his outrageous pension which is based on his salary as a union leader. He told the Chicago Tribune,
“I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Weaver said. “There was not a time when someone was not able to get in touch with me. You ask my family. I didn’t take vacation. I worked in the office long hours. I worked anywhere from 15 hours, 16 hours a day.
“If you want to divide that $240,000 into the amount of hours spent, I think you would find that the per hour was probably not much at all, considering the work that had to be done.”
But what Weaver and some others in Illinois don’t seem to get is that whatever work he may have done for his union, his pension should come from the union, not in large part from the average taxpayer who was never a part of that union. (Memo to the Occupy crowd in Chicago: Why are you not up in arms about this? Or does OWS really stand for “Obviously, We’re Stupid”?)
These cases are egregious and not just limited to Illinois.
But there is a bigger, more insidious union-involved scandal that is nationwide and ongoing: “release time” from school for teachers who are union reps. These teachers are regularly given time off from their teaching duties so that they can do union business on school time and still be paid…by the district, i.e. the taxpayers. For example, in New York,
“The Department of Education pays about 1,500 teachers for time they spend on union activities — and pays other teachers to replace them in the classroom.
“It’s a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung — at full pay — to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers.”
“The UFT reimburses the DOE only about $900,000 of nearly $10 million it spends to replace the teachers, officials said.”
Far away from New York, in California’s conservative Orange County, there is a district that has this wording as part of their contract,
“The Association President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.”
Just about every teacher union contract has this kind of screw-the-taxpayer clause written into it, usually in the area that deals with “Association Rights.” Yeah, every time the “Association” asserts a right, the taxpayers take it in the shorts. And all the while students are subject to a steady barrage of subs, which is never a winning formula for a good education.
Yes, “fountain pen” robbery is rampant. The question is when will the people who are footing the bill for these union abuses wake up and demand that their legislators put an end to it. And vote them out if they don’t.
About the author: 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.