Monday, January 15, 2018

Want to Know How to Beat the Billionaires Trying to Destroy Public Education?  Stay in the Union!!
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director - The Badass Teachers Association and Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. Executive Director - The Badass Teachers Association

In late February the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the Janus vs. AFSCME case. 

If you do not already know what this case is about, to put it bluntly: Janus is Friedrichs 2.0 and seeks to end mandatory agency fees (union dues) for unions. Janus, like Friedrichs, is an attempt to defund our unions so that they cannot operate.  

What does this mean in practice?  Currently, some unions have what are called agency fees.  Agency fees are a fancy word for union dues. Sometimes we feel it is best to explain this in the context of what it means for us as union members. Many union members belong to, for example, the AFT/NEA/NYSUT and a local. Teachers can pay  to belong to the national, state, and local union. The payment is usually done as a paycheck deduction. 
Here is what that affords a teacher at the local level: 

It gives you trained representation if you have to go into administration for anything disciplinary.

It gives you a trained team that negotiates a contract for all members so that individual members don’t have to go in and negotiate their own contract. 

It gives you a trained team that will file grievances for you if you feel that you have been wronged in the workplace. 

It gives you peace of mind, via a solid work contract, that your employer is not going to take advantage of you. 

It gives you a team that negotiates a wage in which we you live and pay our bills.

It gives you a team that negotiates your medical and dental benefits.
It gives you a team that negotiates conditions that benefit the children we teach (like extra help hours and Back to School Nights). 

The bottom line is that the trained representatives  that work for us as a union members are trained by the state and national unions to work on behalf of members. The training of representatives takes time and money. Representatives also get compensation for their time as they work for members outside the school day. Most union representatives, specifically officers work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They should be compensated by members for their expertise, training, and time. 

History of the Billionaire Attack on Public Education
and Public School Teachers

The attack on public education and public education unions is rooted, we believe, in the attempt to silence teachers who are outspoken about a plethora of social issues. Teachers and their unions are at the forefront of advocating for all children in our schools (disabled students, students in  poverty,  LGBTQ students, students of color). Teachers have historically backed the Democratic party with both their votes and money because the party believed (notice the “ed”) in the promise of public education and historically supported the teaching profession.  

We believe that is no longer true.  

The attack on public education, public school teachers, and our unions is an attack that is bipartisan. Right wing conservative billionaires and neoliberal billionaires buy off politicians we elect to administer a one-two punch to public education, public school teachers, and our unions.  They attack us for  different reasons, but they believe in many of the same things.  In many cases, you will see large cross-over where they will work together to strip teachers of tenure, close schools, and support public school privatization. We don’t want to get into the weeds too much on this but want to present some examples for you.  

The Attack from the Right
The Koch Brothers own Koch Industries. It is the second largest privately held company in the U.S. They make significant contributions to libertarian and conservative think tanks. They plan to spend $889 million on candidates running for office and have donated over $100 million to advocate for free-market initiatives. They are responsible for Scott Walker and Mitt Romney.  They are responsible for funding the stripping of due process rights from teachers in Kansas and other states. The Koch Brothers are public enemy #1 to teachers, our unions, and public school children. One of the  most detrimental things they fund is the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC).

What does right to work mean?

It means a right to be fired at will and the existence of no unions to protect worker rights. The NRTWC has been a national leader in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions by pushing to  make us a Right to Work nation. Currently, there are 28 states that are Right to Work. Unionized workers eat into their profits and also don’t, for the most part, support their political agenda. The Koch Brothers are heavily connected with NRTWC and give them tons of dollars. Since 1999 the NRTWC has pressured Congress to pass a National Right to Work Act. Senators like Rand Paul have sponsored this legislation and received over $27,000 in campaign contributions from the NRTWC. One of the most prominent arms of their attack on public sector workers and public schools is the Freedom Foundation. The Koch Brothers with their Freedom Foundation have led the fight to attack unions and teachers in this country. They have financed Rebecca Friedrichs to the Supreme Court, and they are currently financing Mark Janus in their attempts to destroy unions in this country.
The Mercer Family are the second group aligned with the right that is going after public education and public school teachers. They have donated generously to the Koch Brothers Freedom Partners Action Fund.  In NY, the Mercer’s fund, Reclaim NY, is an astroturf group that pretends to be about reducing government but instead seems to be pushing Mercer's far-right agenda. One man who went undercover to a training with Reclaim New York writes, “Reclaim New York achieves, or at least sets out to achieve, Steven Bannon’s goals. It takes advantage of people who want to become involved in grassroots activism. It lures them in with an opportunity to file FOIL requests, and then uses laws that were meant to hold government accountable to undermine those very governments.”  Reclaim NY PAC often backs candidates in NY that are anti-public education, anti-union, and pro-privatization.  Reclaim NY PAC, backed by Mercer, is also one of the strongest supporters of charter schools in NY.   

We can also count the current education secretary as one of the billionaires hoping to destroy public education and teacher unions. In November of 2016, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the new Secretary of Education. Her appointment hearings were controversial and exposed a woman who had no business taking over the responsibility for public education in this country. DeVos, who is part of the Amway fortune, has never attended public school and her children have never attended public school. She has been a strong supporter (both financially and personally) of school choice. DeVos has an over three-decade history of attempting to get rid of public education. She waged war on Michigan public schools, and the impact is still felt today.  Jonathan Pelto writes in The Hill, “DeVos and her allies have found someone who will champion the cause of shifting massive public resources away from the nation’s public schools to subsidize the country’s private and parochial schools. Critics say that DeVos’ voucher plan would exacerbate educational inequality, that "voucher programs do not work to improve student achievement, and voucher programs and charter school expansion drain both money and social capital from the traditional public schools, creating even more of an imbalanced, two-tiered system.” DeVos was able to turn the state of Michigan into a Right to Work state with her large volumes of cash and influence. Matt Lavonis reported, “Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, thanks to legislation that was ushered into the former cradle of industrial unionism via the DeVos’ trademark combo of political arm- twisting and largesse.  Another DeVos-inspired law made it illegal for employers, including school districts, to process union dues, while simultaneously making it easier for corporations to deduct PAC money from employee paychecks. This summer the DeVoses succeeded in driving a final nail into the MEA’s coffin. The GOP-controlled legislature essentially eliminated pensions, among the last tangible benefits that teachers in Michigan receive from their unions. The union leaders I spoke to when I traveled through the state last year, reporting on DeVos’ education legacy, were candid about the increasingly precarious state of their organizations. But far worse lies ahead.”

The above examples only scratch the surface of what the “right” has attempted to do to public sector unions and to public education.  We wanted to make sure that the understanding of this was clear to those who chose to read this piece.  If we were to include the entire “right wing” web that is looking to destroy unions in this country this essay would be at least forty pages long! We do want to make a final note-with the impending Janus case coming, Koch funded groups could be knocking at your door and asking you to leave the union and join a fake union that will just offer you liability insurance. Our advice, decline and shut your door. Don't fall victim to the Koch brothers!

The Attack from the Left
Leading the charge from the left to dismantle public education and teacher unions are the Broad Foundation and The Democrats for Education Reform. Eli Broad is worth $7.3 billion.  Broad uses this money to fund lawsuits that attack teacher tenure and teacher unions. Broad helped to fund  Bain v. California Teachers Association which was the first incarnation of Friedrichs v. CTA and the current Janus case which seeks to end members paying mandatory union dues.  What this means is that in states that are not right to work people are allowed to unionize. In most of those states union members have to pay union dues (agency fees). In doing so, the union has elected leaders who act as the sole representative for the body (members) in a variety of things like negotiation of contracts, district meetings, and other work-related issues.  The Broad funded Bain case, again, sought to defund the unions by taking away mandatory union dues which would dimish the funding stream that unions need to stay in business.    

Perhaps the most insidious group that claims to be on the left are The Democrats for Education Reform.  We wrote about them in 2014:

“Another self-proclaimed progressive group is Democrats for Education Reform, a front for Republicans and corporate interests.  In 2014, DFER financed candidates in elections that sought to close public schools.  DFER supports the agenda of punishing children with High Stakes Testing, blaming teachers for "failing" schools, attacks teachers right to due process, and doesn’t seem to support providing equitable educational funding to help children. They are secretly funded by billionaire Eli Broad and many other hedge funders.   It is clear that the education agenda of the self-proclaimed Progressives has been, as Diane Ravitch writes, "to transfer  public funds to private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised, and unaccountable schools that have opened the public coffers to profiteering, fraud, and exploitation by large and small entrepreneurs."  This doesn't seem to be forward movement for children or education.   It sure seems like forward movement for the self-proclaimed progressives to make more money off the backs of our children and their public education.”  

Noted education researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig highlights from  The Nation in his article “You be the Judge: Are the @DFER_News Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing?”

“ DFER was increasingly anti-educator and more focused on privatizing education: “…DFER’s endgame has little to do with learning and everything to do with marginalizing public-sector unionized workers and bringing down the cost of taxes for social programs and… creating new business and investment opportunities in areas that are still publicly run…”

Finally, Sarah Lahm notes in Alternet, “With Neil Gorsuch now seated on the United States Supreme Court, the right-wing seems poised to realize its forever goal of dismantling labor unions. But conservatives aren’t the only ones anticipating the last days of public sector unions.  Challenging teachers’ job protections via “impact litigation” is an increasingly mainstream cause, drawing Democratic super lawyer David Boies, and high-profile Obama alums like Robert Gibbs and Ben Labolt. Now an education reform organization led by prominent Democratic party fundraiser Jonathan Sackler is stepping up efforts to reign in unions via the courts.”

Democrats for Education Reform are a front group for hedge fund billionaires who seek to push for privatization of public education. Standing in their way....unionized teachers who have a voice! In fact, in one case in California, DFER leader Gloria Romero led the attack on teacher unions in California and had some shady connections with the Koch Brothers.  

What does Janus Mean in Plain English

Mark Janus is a child-support specialist with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Springfield.  His union is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) - Council 31.  Janus feels that his rights are violated because as part of his employment he feels he should not have to pay dues (agency fees) to a union whose mission he does not support.  His case has made it up through the state courts and is now at the foot of the Supreme Court.  Let’s not forget that it has gotten to the Supreme Court with the help of Gov. Rauner (a very anti-public education and anti-teacher union governor) as well as the Koch funded Freedom Foundation. Please don’t think for one minute that Mark Janus has financed this all by himself.   

How do we Beat the Billionaires?
First, let us address the elephant in the room. We know that there are disgruntled teacher union members out there. Some are angry because they did not like the early endorsement of Hillary by the AFT or NEA. Some are angry because they feel like the unions were not there for them when they needed them. Some are angry because they feel that leaders have compromised too much for a seat at the table. Some are angry because there is just no pleasing them. Some people are pleased with their unions and support them.  

Whatever the case may be at the end of the day, if workers leave the union they not only hurt themselves, they also hurt their co-workers, their schools, their students, and their community. In schools, children will feel the impact if a school loses its union (if a union falls under 51% membership a union can face the possibility of becoming decertified), and in return, the community would suffer.  

Noted education historian Diane Ravitch blogged about a study conducted by Midland and Rowell on what happened to Wisconsin schools and teachers when they lost their union:  “This issue brief examines the impact of the law on Wisconsin’s K-12 public education system and state economy. While this brief focuses on Act 10’s impact on Wisconsin teachers based on the data available, the same forces driving changes in the teaching workforce can also affect the broader public sector. Proponents of Act 10 insisted that reducing collective bargaining rights for teachers would improve education by eliminating job protections such as tenure and seniority-based salary increases. As Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) argued, ‘We no longer have seniority or tenure. That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can pay them to be there.’ However, the facts suggest that Act 10 has not had its promised positive impact on educational quality in the state. Teachers have lower pay, lower pension and health insurance benefits. There is more turnover as teachers move from one district to another seeking higher pay. Act 10 had its intended effect of smashing unions, which represented 14.1% of workers in 2011, but only 9% now.”
As BATs noted in our Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court for the Friedrichs vs. CTA case:

“Without the ability to effectively engage in collective bargaining, individual teachers will be left voiceless in protecting their livelihoods, the learning environments of their students, and the future of public education. Amici, therefore, appeal to this Court to reaffirm long-established precedent which fairly and properly balances competing interests.”
So how do we beat the billionaires and politicians trying to destroy our union who exist ON BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL AISLE?


If you are disgruntled or disagree with your union - run for office.
Put yourself in a position to make policy decisions.  

If running for office is not in your wheelhouse, it is fine to disagree (privately or publicly) with your elected union leaders.  Many union members do and either write blogs or create caucuses within the union.  We have to exit the mindset that everyone has to agree.  We have to get into the mindset that questioning our elected leaders is a healthy thing.  

Often we hear the claim that our unions should not be so political and should just be concerned about education. We refute this claim because regulatory guidelines and decision-making for our public school systems are done by politicians and political appointees, at the state and federal levels. These people do not always have the best interest of the student in mind when making these decisions!! We need our unions to work IN POLITICS to protect the interests of children, schools, and teachers.
Politicians not the adults that are in the schools on a daily basis, seeing what our students face, knowing how these decisions affect education. Many politicians are influenced by corporate lobbyists, funded think tank policy papers, and hidden agendas that see our schools as dollar signs.
Only by presenting a united front of people, can we even begin to compete against that type of money and influence.

Some educators criticize the union for the social justice narrative that has been guiding policy and decision making. It is important to remember that the decision to take up the mantle of social justice stemmed from the voice of rank and file members. Meaning that you or your peers put forth a call to action and democratic votes which occurred on the floor of the annual Representative Assembly.

Don’t care for the direction that our union is taking? You have a voice to make change the same way. But to do that, you must be a member of the union.
If you feel the union has wronged you in some way, leaving will only hurt your co-workers, and most importantly the children in our schools.  

By being angry and stomping off with your union card you allow only billionaires and the politicians they have bought off the win!

In the end that will come back to hurt YOU but most importantly the children YOU teach!

Want to #BeatTheBillionaires ??

Stay #UnionStrong.

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