Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Author Archives: J. Justin Wilson

  • AFL-CIO Issues Wish List to Obama

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    Tonight President Obama will give his State of the Union address, and some of his deepest-pocketed backers at the AFL-CIO have outlined their hoped-for initiatives from the President’s speech. Along with an immigration reform bill and more public sector union make-work spending, the nation’s largest union federation asked for two very specific favors: a minimum wage increase and more efforts to aid unionization.

    We’ve noted that some unions have self-interested contract provisions that increase with statutory minimum wage increases. The Service Employees International Union, the union pushing the fast food protests, has several that are publicly identifiable. AFL-CIO member unions have these provisions too: We found publicly available UNITE-HERE and UFCW contracts that also peg to the minimum wage or get automatically renegotiated if it changes. When we pointed it out, the UFCW bragged about them, so we assume they’re at least somewhat prevalent.

    The AFL-CIO also asked for more support for “strengthening the freedom of workers to organize and collectively bargain.” Translating from union-speak to English, that suggests that the unions want Obama to resurrect the dead “card-check” bill that would take employees’ right to secret ballot votes. After the misleadingly named “Employee Free Choice Act” died amid bipartisan skepticism in Obama’s first term, unions have looked to the National Labor Relations Board to do their dirty work.

    However, with the union-backed employee “right” to a higher minimum wage likely to be a top administration priority, it’s more likely that expanding, rather than restricting, employee rights will be on the menu. The Employee Rights Act, which would guarantee a secret ballot to join a union, require opt-ins to union political operation funding, and criminalize union threats (among other things) offers the opportunity to expand, rather than restrict, employee freedoms.


  • Responding to Ravitch: “Patently Absurd.”

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    When it comes to “converts,” you either love them or hate them. In the case of Diane Ravitch, who started her career as an Assistant Secretary of Education in George H.W. Bush’s administration and is finishing it up as a dyed-in-the-wool teachers union shill, the American Federation of Teachers and Ravitch have an unsurprising love affair.

    Despite her attempt to portray herself as a rogue thinker in the field of public education, Diane Ravitch’s ties to the American Federation of Teachers run deep, as does her defense of her “personal friend” Randi Weingarten. Over the years, the two “have shared many important life events, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals.” Their relationship isn’t relegated to just their personal lives, either; until recently, Ravitch sat on the board of the AFT’s Albert Shanker Institute. In 2005, the United Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s old stomping ground, gave Ravitch the John Dewey Education Award. Most recently, the two co-authored a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urging him to intervene in an ugly union dispute with Philadelphia.

    Ravitch completed her transition from conservative education reformer to a vocal apologist for teachers unions last year when she spoke at the AFT’s convention in Detroit.

    So don’t color us surprised to see Ravitch come out swinging against our hard hitting ad in last week’s New York Times. What did surprise us, though, was the lack of substance behind Ravitch’s screed.

    Ravitch’s attacks are, to quote her, “patently absurd.”

    Ravitch’s first argument out of the gate is that “our scores on PISA are not declining.” Here she’s not quibbling with us, but rather with  basic math, which is amusing given the subject. The Wall Street Journal’s headline read “U.S. High School Students Slip in Global Rankings.” The Journal reported:

    The results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which are being released on Tuesday, show that teenagers in the U.S. slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S.

    The same is true in absolute terms, too. From 2003 to 2012, Education By The Numbers reports that our scores in math fell as well.

    From there, Ravitch defends the AFT’s reform efforts for offering “some form of merit pay in contracts in Baltimore and New Haven.”

    Two cities does not make a trend, let alone an effort toward reform. In both, the AFT-affiliated union had its back to the wall. Compromise was not negotiable. In New Haven, the union wasn’t leading the charge for reform, but rather was backed into a corner and forced into reform. New Haven union leader David Cicarella explained:

    “We’ve got to be willing to do something about test scores and to deal with ineffective teachers who have tenure and are hiding behind the union. It’s coming to a head where the public is saying, “We’ve had it now.”

    In Baltimore, the union doesn’t really  support “merit pay,” but rather that “everyone is getting money“:

    “With merit pay, there is a certain amount of money that goes to certain people. And when it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Jessica Aldon, public relations specialist for the Baltimore Teachers Union. “With this, everyone is getting money,” she said.

    But these distortions are just a side show to Ravitch’s real whopper.

    Ravitch recalls a brief exchange she had with Center for Union Facts (CUF) Executive Director Rick Berman at an event hosted by the Philanthropy Roundtable. Ravitch recalls:

    [Berman] showed pictures of the billboards he had erected across major highways in New Jersey, blaming the unions for high costs and bad test scores. Needless to say, he was very proud of the work he had done. The audience seemed to love his presentation. When it came my turn to question him, I asked him these questions: can you explain why the states that are unionized have the highest scores on the federal tests? Did you know that New Jersey is one of the nation’s highest performing states? Can you name a high-performing state that is not unionized?

    The only thing Ravitch got right was that CUF’s executive director made a presentation about our campaign in Newark, New Jersey to disassociate the city’s teachers union from it’s hard-working teachers. The audience loved the presentation precisely because we demonstrated with evidence (pre- and post-polling) that anti-reform union leaders could no longer hide behind teachers and continue to protect incompetence.

    Beyond that, Ravitch is a fabulist. Maybe she wanted to ask those questions, but she didn’t. In fact, her creative memory on tough questioning seems to be about New Jersey test scores while the campaign was solely focused on the city of Newark.  In fact, beyond her newly discovered outrage over a 3 minute presentation from 7 years ago, the only things she did at the time were politely disagree and make her own speech. From her description, it appears that she doesn’t even remember what the campaign sought to prove.

    Then again, given her close ties to Randi Weingarten and the AFT, it appears that we should come to expect no less from Ravitch, whose legacy will likely be as labor’s Propagandist-in-Chief.

  • Teachers Union Fights for Convicted Child Molester

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    This summer, Rose City Michigan math teacher Neal Erickson was convicted of raping a young student over a three year period. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. You’d think that would be enough to convince his union to stand down, but you’d be wrong. reports that the Michigan Education Association is fighting to secure Erickson’s $10,000 severance payment. EAGNews reports:

    “When the first payment was sent out … and the union discovered we did not make the payment to Mr. Erickson, they filed a grievance on his behalf.”

    Cwayna said he was the one who decided not to authorize the special severance for the child molester, but declined to elaborate on why, though the reason seems pretty obvious.

    “That was something I as superintendent, with some consultation with the president of the board,” decided, Cwayna said. “That was a decision the superintendent makes and at this point … I prefer not to get into the reasons.”

    MEA UniServ Director Ron Parkinson acknowledged that the union is taking the case to arbitration on behalf of Erickson, but declined to discuss the case further.

    “We don’t make a practice of discussing any case. It’s based on contractual compliance, and that’s really all I can say,” Parkinson told EAGnews Friday. “We filed for arbitration today.”


  • UFCW Leaders Arrested Posing as Walmart Employees

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    We noted that recent protests at Wal-Mart stores were stage-managed United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union-organized efforts aimed at unionizing the retailer or winning political support to make the chain uncompetitive with unionized grocers. Through a “worker center” known as OUR Walmart, UFCW supporters staged protests that the led  20 employees (of over 1.4 million hourly associates) to walk off the job on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving.

    And some of those protesters ended up in jail as part of their demonstrations. (The tactic is as deliberate as it is overused.) The Freedom Foundation, a Washington State think tank, was able to obtain the names of 15 OUR Walmart protesters who were arrested at a Bellevue demonstration through a public records request and did some digging into their backgrounds.

    Of the 15 people who were booked, only one was found to be a current Wal-Mart employee. Two had previously worked for Wal-Mart but had been let go, one allegedly for threatening another employee. Five were random outside individuals with no connection to Wal-Mart or an identified labor organization or union front group. The rest were all professional labor activists and agitators, including:

    • Assistant to the President of UFCW Local 21;
    • Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, a labor-linked advocacy group;
    • Executive Director of the Domestic Fair Trade Association, a labor-linked advocacy group;
    • A member of the board of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action who is also a local Democratic Party district chair and a former International Association of Machinists official;
    • A Political Action Coordinator of the Washington State Nurses Association;
    • A secretary of the Puget Sound chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women; and
    • Another member of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, a labor-linked advocacy group

    The comprehensive analysis confirms what we already suspected. A quickie search turns up more evidence that the arrestees were organized labor activists. Media reports highlighted the arrest of Karl Hilgert (who dressed as Santa Claus) as part of a protest in California. It turns out that Mr. Hilgert is a member of a local chapter of the union-funded worker center alliance Interfaith Worker Justice. (UFCW gave IWJ’s national headquarters $99,000 in 2012.)

    The evidence continues to pour in showing that the “worker centers” are simply union front groups in new clothes. How long before the media notices?

  • Fact Checking Randi

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    Last night, American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten appeared on FOX News to defend her union against charges leveled in our full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times.

    Listening to the segment, it became clear that Weingarten was more interested in spin than an honest conversation about improving America’s global educational competitiveness.

    Let’s take her point by point:

    Weingarten: “The big difference is poverty… In the United States of America, if you actually factored out poverty and looked at the schools with less than 20% poverty, we outflank everybody.”

    Fact Check: That’s right. If you look at the schools with the high-performing students, we have the smartest kids around. Pretending that poverty is unique to America is an easy dodge.

    There’s little evidence that poverty rates are the cause of the U.S.’s poor performance. In its analysis of the PISA results, the OECD finds that “The share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the United States is about average.”

    But let’s assume for the moment that Weingarten has a point, and low-income students’ bad performance drags the whole average down. That would actually make the AFT look even worse, because they represent bad teachers in inner-city school districts. Public schoolteachers in Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are among the districts organized by AFT. If those kids aren’t learning, the AFT has to bear some responsibility for failing to teach them.

    Weingarten: Yesterday’s protests were the “biggest actions of frankly parents, students, and teachers all across America.”

    Fact Check: Right out of the gate Weingarten’s spinning. Parents and students? Nice try.

    Let’s be frank, Randi, this was not a parent-led effort. And if there were a handful of students at your protests, wouldn’t they have been skipping class? Yesterday was a school day, after all. Does the AFT really support students skipping class to attend political protests?

    At best, Weingarten’s claim is Astroturf. At worst, its a fabrication. Claiming that parents and students are rising up to protect the teachers union is the same con game being played by worker centers like OUR Walmart and Fast Food Forward, both of which claim to have a following of employees, but in reality are largely comprised of union leaders and the community organizations unions fund to do their dirty work.

    Weingarten: “If somebody shouldn’t teach—if somebody can’t teach—they shouldn’t be there.”

    Fact Check: There are two ways of interpreting this.

    If we take Weingarten at her word, then she’s just made an groundbreaking commitment to end her decades-long effort to protect incompetent teachers by creating byzantine processes to terminate poor-performing teachers under the guise of “due process” (a.k.a “tenure”).

    If, on the other hand, we judge her by her actions, its clear she’s saying one thing, and doing something entirely different.

    Weingarten’s union has fought tooth and nail to preserve teacher tenure systems that make it nearly impossible to fire teachers who “shouldn’t teach.”

    Over a three-year period spanning a portion of Weingarten’s reign as head of the AFT local in New York, The New York Daily News reports that “just 88 out of some 80,000 city schoolteachers have lost their jobs for poor performance.”

    Most recently, the New York state Department of Education imposed a system on the city that gave “ineffective teachers” two years to improve before they could be fired. The AFT did not approve the policy.

    Still not convinced? Just take a moment to read about the 8 year long, $1 million odyssey New York schools took to finally terminate Yvonne Chalom after she was convicted of 32 counts of aggravated harassment in 2005.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Weingarten: “The [New York] Daily News basically said that the ad was wrong.”

    Fact Check: Couching her answer with the word “basically” doesn’t work when the Daily News didn’t mention our ad whatsoever (we searched high and low). That’s about as accurate as saying The New York Times “basically” called on the union to impeach Weingarten.


    Weingarten: The top ranked countries don’t rely on standardized testing to judge educational effectiveness.

    Fact Check: We went to the source, Volume 4 of the OECD’s 2012 PISA Results. It turns out that schools in the top ranked countries are either on par with the U.S. or more likely to use tests to monitor teachers’ performance.

    Percentage of students in schools whose principal reported that tests or assessments of students achievement have been used to monitor the practice of mathematics teachers at their schools (page 158)

    Rank in Math


    Tests or Assessments of Students Achievement

    #1 China 92%
    #2 Singapore 96%
    #3 Hong Kong 95%
    #4 Taiwan 82%
    #5 South Korea 84%
    #6 Macao 90%
    #36 United States 89%

    While we were looking at test score use, we came across an even more shocking statistic.

    Percentage of students in schools whose principal reported that appraisals of and/or feedback to teachers lead directly to change in salary.

    Rank in Math


    Assessments led to salary change

    #1 China 41%
    #2 Singapore 61%
    #3 Hong Kong 30%
    #4 Taiwan 28%
    #5 South Korea 47%
    #6 Macao 62%
    #36 United States 11%

    You read that right. Students in China, which is not exactly well-known for employing free market principles in the public sector, are almost four times more likely to have a teacher who has received merit-based pay.