As my readers know, I was a teacher for 35 years. During that time, there were only five years in which I was not a union member…the first five I was a teacher (3 at a private Catholic high school and my first two in the public school system).
Labor union history in both the United States and Western Europe have a checkered past, with successes in raising the wages of workers, securing benefits for labor as well as holding factory owners and corporations responsible for ensuring safe working conditions. There is also the dark underside with seedy union bosses making the lion’s share of money off of union dues, organized crime infiltration, and union demands so egregious as to drive companies out of business or at least resulting in strikes both violent and detrimental to the workaday man or woman. Anyone that disputes the latter is simply not a student of history.
When it comes to teacher’s unions, they serve in much the same capacity as traditional union membership in securing higher pay for teachers, benefit negotiation as well as a grievence procedure which attempts to address perceived wrongs by school administrators. Further, they serve as lobbyists to state and federal government in securing pension benefits along with helping to shape educational policy at both the state and local level. Finally, Teachers’s unions provide liability insurance in case there is an accusation against one of its members…the union provides legal assistance as part of union dues.
Teachers’ unions today are one of the strongest unions in the nation, particularly strong in democratic states such as Illinois. Further, not only is the union powerful, it is something of a king maker, with the overwhelming majority of union members identifying as democrats and voting “en bloc” for the Democratic Party – as do most labor unions – no matter the policy of said party (I’ve written about blind loyalty to party—either party—before).
Now that we have some basic information out of the way, let me provide a few facts about the American Federation of Teachers, headed by Randi Weingarten, herself never really a teacher at all, but leading the largest Teachers’ union in the nation.
Salary for AFT administrators:
Assistant Director = $115,000 per year
Deputy Director = $158,300 per year
Regional Manager = $115,800 per year
File Manager = $117,100 per year
Randi Weingarten = $450,500 per year
National Average Teacher Salary = $55,700 (but falls – depending on state – between $46,000-$61,000
Currently, there are over 1.7 million members dues paying members in the AFT, with Randi Weingarten providing the direction not only for the stance of the membership but also directing where the union money should be spent. In all of my years in education, I cannot recall there ever being a vote for who should lead the union, nor a questionnaire or any other such method of “union membership input” as to where union money should be spent. To wit, here are some of the places Ms. Weingarten directed union money:
Total money collected: $196 million (that represents a 10% increase in dues despite losing 13,000 members in 2021)
*4 million was paid to union employees doing political work (almost exclusively for progressive causes)
*According to the union’s own records – $49 million was spent on political causes – almost all monies spent on the progressive agenda.
*6 million was spent on “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” all going toward political organizations – representing some 24% of total union spending
*27% of union monies were spent on “union administration, overhead, benefits for individuals employed by the union
*Secretary – Treasurer Fedrick Ingram earned $312,000
*Executive Vice-President Evelyn DeJesus earned $285,000
*Two assistants for Randi Weingarten earned $248,000 & $230,000 respectively – which resulted in some $4.1 million paid to employees who worked on political activities.
These are just a few of the statistics as obtained by the organization called Americans for Fair Treatment. A deeper look into the numbers reveals Ms. Weingarten and her administration have done little to direct monies toward activities that might help teachers themselves, but rather have used union dues to further her, and the AFT’s political aspirations and candidates, over 98% of which were democrats.
The notion that Ms. Weingarten or the AFT in general has the best interests of teachers at heart, interests that are limited to the classroom and teachers as well as students is on its face – bunk. The AFT is little more than a political shell organization disguised as a teachers’ union, a shell organization to funnel money to her political causes and to pay her, and her staff’s outrageous salaries.
That has historically been the problem with labor unions – those at the top get most of the money, the benefits and the power while the rank and file are fooled into believing they’re getting the lion’s share of the benefits. There was a reason when Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees decision was announced in favor of Janus union leaders across the nation, including the AFT, were rattled. No longer was union membership a given or dues to be collected for simply being employed in a union school (so-called fair share). Now, those who chose not to be in unions for one reason or another, didn’t have to pay dues. They could “opt out”, still being bound by the contract negotiated for the school district (or whatever entity they worked for).
The intent was to allow those workers, in this case, teachers, the opportunity to voice their displeasure at where union money was being directed, or their dissatisfaction with union leadership, or simply choose not to be a union member for whatever reason they chose. Small voices as few left the unions, but voices nonetheless.
For teachers, it’s time to dislodge themselves from the notion that they need to be part of a national teachers’ union. Yes, there are some benefits to be obtained on the local level, but the argument here is that on the national or even state level, teacher’s unions offer very little to the rank and file, and much more for those at the top – the biggest fish of all being Randi Weingarten.
Better to concentrate unionization efforts at the local level, where specific needs can be addressed post haste rather than pin hopes on the likes of Randi Weingarten and the AFT – who seem to use union money for little more than furthering her political agenda.