Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Courts Give Randi and Allies Big Gifts

States are fed up with an education system that leaves American students behind their peers abroad. As a result, they have been taking on union-backed policies of “tenure” that give teachers, almost regardless of ability, effective jobs for life. Unfortunately for students, appellate courts in California and North Carolina have just handed teacher union bosses like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers substantial benefits by overruling these reforms.

This week, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned a legislative reform that abolished tenure for all teachers, holding it could only apply to new hires. The only winners here are old teachers who regained their jobs for life and the teachers unions supporting them; students stuck with time-servers are the big losers.

In California, an appeals court overturned a decision by a state judge that overturned that state’s teacher tenure laws over the objections of teachers unions. By declaring that California’s teacher-union-demanded job protections—a short (only two years) evaluation period before the effective job-for-life protections of tenure, onerous discipline-and-removal processes reminiscent of the worst “rubber rooms,” and a last-in-first-out layoff policy that doesn’t take effectiveness into account—deprived California students of equal access to an effective public education, Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling in a case titled Vergara v. California had offered hope to millions who worried California’s union-controlled political system was impossibly hostile to school reform.

The appellate ruling in Randi’s favor elicited a scathing response from the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who write:

It’s a big win for teacher unions and their worship of the sanctity of seniority, but a setback for the rest of the schoolhouse world: parents, taxpayers and — most of all — students who live in the most challenged districts. The plaintiffs, who include nine students and a wealthy Silicon Valley backer, are indicating they’ll continue their fight upward on the appeals ladder.


The stalled case puts the onus on the state Legislature to overhaul the balky rules that are basically in the hands of union leaders, who provide ample money and troops in every election. Thus, the prospect for a legislative fix is bleak. These long odds were a factor for educational reform groups who hoped the courts would act where the Legislature’s ruling Democrats feared to tread.

While Randi and her fellow teacher union bosses savor a win over what they call “millionaires and special interests,” students will continue to suffer under the status quo. As more and more evidence piles up that teachers unions’ system of jobs-for-life and no accountability are hurting students, legislatures and judges alike will continue to put pressure on Randi’s status quo. While the teachers unions’ massive political machines might keep the status quo alive for a while, when you’ve lost a coalition of liberals including entertainer Whoopi Goldberg, the editors of The Washington Post, and President Obama’s first education secretary Arne Duncan, the writing is already on the wall.

Categories: AFL-CIOAFTNEATeachers Unions