We need a state constitutional amendment limiting the power of teachers’ unions

Imagine a scenario where you and your fellow cube dwellers could band together, go to your boss, and tell him “If you give us a big fat raise at the expense of the shareholders, we’ll give you a personal kickback.”

That’s what teachers’ unions do. The union members band together, package some payola in the form of union dues, launder it into “campaign contributions,” and give it to politicians who control the union members’ pay. In return, the politicians vote to increase the pay of the union members.

This is all at the expense of the taxpayers who have little say in the matter and are barely even aware of it. Unlike shareholders in a company, taxpayers don’t receive profit and loss statements. They just receive tax bills.

In this respect, unions in the public sector are fundamentally different from unions in the private sector. Unions in the public sector can legally and routinely bribe the bosses they’re negotiating with because those bosses are not accountable for spending taxpayer money; unions in the private sector cannot because the bosses are accountable for spending shareholder money.

This has been going on for years, to the point that spending-per-student in America is second-highest in the world (behind only Luxemburg) while the educational outcome is miserable.

The teachers’ unions response to this is a maze of contradictions and falsehoods. They argue that they’re doing a terrific job of educating students even though test scores show they’re not. They argue that teachers don’t get paid enough even though teacher pay is substantially higher than in countries with better test scores. And they argue that we would attract better teachers if only we paid them more even as they contend that the ones we already have are doing a great job and even though we already pay them more than other countries do. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Unions are philosophically at odds with educational achievement. Unions reward armies of ordinary workers at the expense of the extraordinary ones who are, by definition, rare. That’s because the numerous ordinary workers generate far more in union dues than the rare extraordinary ones. Unions reward mediocrity because mediocrity is where the money and votes are. Maybe there’s a place for that on the factory floor, and maybe there’s not, but certainly there’s no place for it behind a teacher’s desk.

Unions are also incompatible with essential government services. In the private sector, people can go to a different grocery store if their regular one is shut down by a strike. But they can’t call a different 911 number if their house is burning or burglarized, or call a different army if their country is invaded, or quickly find substitute schools if their local teachers go on strike.

For those reasons, President Franklin D. Roosevelt – even though a friend of socialism, a supporter of the labor movement, and the founder of the welfare state – was strongly opposed to public sector unions. So was early union leader George Meany.

I’m not saying that public unions should be outlawed. People have a First Amendment right to associate with one another. Nor should political donations by unions be outlawed. People have a First Amendment right to financially support political candidates of their choice (but there should be rigorous disclosure requirements on those donations). The Supreme Court has held that people’s First Amendment rights do not vanish just because they organize themselves into a union or a company or a political action committee. I agree with the Supreme Court on that score.

But there are two concrete things we can do, one legal and one cultural. The legal thing is to prohibit school districts from negotiating with organizations that purport to speak for all teachers collectively – prohibit negotiations with teachers’ unions.

There’s nothing unconstitutional about such a prohibition. Public unions may have a Constitutional right to exist, but our government has no Constitutional obligation to negotiate with them.

As part of that, we should also prohibit teachers’ union strikes, on penalty of teacher termination. Such strikes are very destructive and therefore very effective for the unions. A precedent is President Ronald Reagan’s firing of illegally striking air traffic controllers 42 years ago.

Teachers’ union strikes are indeed prohibited in many states. But illegal strikes in those states are not uncommon. And at least 12 states explicitly allow strikes, including here in Colorado. Teachers went on strike just a few years ago in Colorado and won huge raises for themselves – which they naturally characterized as “for the children.”

We need to accomplish this with a citizen referendum rather than simply passing a state law in the conventional manner because the Colorado governorship, state Supreme Court, and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democrats. The teachers’ unions own the Democratic Party.

This citizen referendum in Colorado would require about 124,000 signatures on a petition to get it on a ballot, which is about 5% of the voter turnout in any given election. Then it takes approval by 55% of the voters.

That’s doable. We voted to legalize marijuana; surely we can vote to improve education by standing up to the teachers’ unions (unless the former has made everyone too high to do the latter).

Then there is the cultural change that is needed. The bribery of politicians by the teachers’ unions through massive campaign contributions must stop. We cannot outlaw the contributions, but we can shame politicians who accept them.

Publicize those bribes. Better, pressure politicians not to accept them to begin with. The teachers’ union expects something for their money, and it’s not better education for children. What they expect is higher pay – at the expense of taxpayers. And less work – at the expense of our children. And more job security – at the expense of accountability. Let’s tell them no, and vote out politicians who won’t also tell them no.

Watch for my book set for publication April 18, titled “High Attitude – How Woke Liberals Ruined Aspen.”

14 thoughts on “We need a state constitutional amendment limiting the power of teachers’ unions

  1. “…government has no Constitutional obligation to negotiate with [teachers’ unions].” Butbutbut, 1A says they have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. You’re saying the government has no duty to respond? In this one case, I hope you’re right.

  2. The de facto goal of labor unions has always been doing less work for more money.

    For government employee unions, this has been especially true.

    However, I still give some, not a lot, but some, regard to law enforcement/police unions and firefighters unions. This is only because these life risking jobs need to have some form of protection against political demagogues who would throw these emergency responders to the mob of wolves in a New York second.

    Whenever a police officer is involved in a shooting or other use-of-force incident, the leftist mobs come out demanding vengeance and a mayor or politically appointed police chief can easily cave-in to mob pressure. This occurs even if the shooting or use of force is totally justified by the officer. A police union is frequently the one thing that can protect and defend a good officer who is in such a predicament.

    Fire unions too, though not as common as police use-of-force incidents, can protect firefighters who can easily be injured and face long term medical conditions due to burns, injuries, chemical exposure, etc. Some municipalities have been known to cut loose injured firefighters because of medical expenses. A fire union may be one of the few protections for firefighters in such circumstances.

    As far as other government workers, who seem to do anything but work, yeah … these unions need to be cut down in size and power, especially the ideological teachers unions and the US Treasury workers union that represents the IRS.

    World Worker Party

    • Quite true that organized labor generally wants to do less work for more money. Equally true that organized capital generally wants to pay less money for more work. How to best manage these two competing forces, that is the question.

      • I’m curious, what do you mean by “organized capital”?

        If by “organized capital” you’re referring to companies, note that the antitrust laws prohibit companies from organizing to fix the wages they pay. In contrast, the antitrust laws do not prohibit workers from organizing to fix the wages they receive.

        As for how to manage the conflicting economic interests of employers and their employees, the market is best at that. I submit that the price for labor — just like the price for goods — should not be “managed.” Those prices should be the outcome of supply and demand.

        If we pay teachers too little, fewer people will become teachers and so we’ll have to pay them more to entice more people into the field. If we pay them too much, then the opposite should happen — we’ll have an oversupply which will allow us to pay them less. Teachers’ unions skew this natural supply and demand balance, particularly when you insulate teachers from layoffs through the distorting effect of tenure.

      • Glenn … yes, it’s supply and demand for the win.

        I contend that America has a vast oversupply of public school teachers with pink or green dyed hair who like to post weird videos of themselves on ChiCom owned social media websites.

        Neuter the teachers unions and then maybe we can see Adam Smith’s invisible hand work some magic …

  3. In our local Review-Journal a letter to the editor ended with, “The real issue here is the destruction of unions and reducing the power of teachers.” I responded in part, “Actually, the real issue here is President John F. Kennedy’s issuance of Executive Order No. 10988 on January 17, 1962, which allowed for the creation of Federal Government unions. No where in the Constitution of the United States does it allow for the creation of Federal Government unions. Therefore, this should always have been only a states’ issue; and never an issue for the Fedeal Government. Executive Order No. 10988 should be abolished! . . . The majority of the monies extracted from the wages of Federal Government union members goes straight into the pockets of Democrat party politicians’ political agendas.” We should also abolish the United States Department of Education! Education in this country has gone straight downhill since its inception.

    • Our Constitution also does not disallow Federal Govt. Unions. It does allow people to freely associate, i.e. form associations, so long as those associations do not conspire to overthrow the Government. Ergo, the constitution seems to at least imply that labor unions are permitted.

      It’s not so that a MAJORITY of Federal union dues go into Dem pockets, but certainly, substantial sums do. However, substantial sums from corporate profits and dividends go into Republican pockets. What’s good for the goose . . .

      I do agree about doing away with the Dept. of Ed., Which I see as a well-intentioned but failed experiment.

  4. When school children start paying union dues, that is when I will start representing the interests of school children. ~Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers

    • Or, as P.J. O’Rourke put it, “The problem is not overcrowding of classrooms. The problem is not teacher unions. The problem is not underfunding and the lack of computers. The problem is your damn kids.”

      Well, that’s certainly PART of the “the” problem, and I’ve always felt that inner-city teachers deserve “combat pay” for work that I wouldn’t do for any amount of money, so I kind of admired Shankar back in the day.

      “The” problem in my mind is the whole damned public education / government complex. It’s what Bunyan called “the slough of despond.”

      • Agreed! I taught in Harlem for 2 years in the early 60’s. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’m told it is now, but it was already very, very bad. When I spoke to parents about their children not learning and being disruptive to those who wanted to learn many of them said something to the effect of, “It’s because you don’t hit them.” In fact, although it was illegal, most teacher did hit them. By my second year, I took the parents advice. I never got into trouble (the principles hit them too) and my situation got a bit better. I’m not sure the middle-schoolers learned more, but they seemed to like me better. THis is a VERY complicated mess and I honestly have no idea how to clean it up.

  5. Pingback: Today’s News 3-10-2023 |

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