It's all in the family

By Ed Rauchut
web posted September 4, 2000

Imagine what would happen if the International Brotherhood of Teamsters President, Jimmy Hoffa Jr., held a press conference to announce that his union had developed a plan for reforming the entire US transportation system.

Or suppose the Screen Actors Union told reporters that the entertainment industry should never again fire a bad actor because "bad actors simply need assistance from their peers."

Journalists, news anchors, and the general public would be wildly skeptical about such proposals. Some would even mock. They'd do so because people understand that union-based advocacy has a perspective on issues that puts the interests of the union above all else. It's not a secret.

Why is it then that whenever one of the nation's largest and most powerful labor unions -- the National Education Association (NEA) - proposes massive government subsidies to increase teacher salaries, people fail to appreciate the fact that the individuals calling for those subsidies are some of the most powerful union operatives in the country?

That's the thrust of an insightful report by Mike Antonucci, head of the Education Intelligence Agency, a research firm dedicated to public education analysis. Antonucci says its no secret that the NEA is one of the nation's most powerful labor unions. The filing requirements placed on it by the IRS and the US Department of Labor are indistinguishable from those placed on the Teamsters Union, United Auto Workers, or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Despite this, the NEA regularly refers to itself as a "professional association" and deliberately downplays its union status. This spin has been so successful that some NEA members don't even realize they belong to a labor union.

Despite the carefully crafted public relations image, the leaders of the NEA are not benevolent schoolmarms. They're union bosses. They are the embodiment of big labor, big politics, and slick public relations. Their primary objective is job security and cold hard cash for the union and its members. If their primary concern were the quality of education, they'd never dream of spending the millions of dollars that they do each year fighting education reform. They'd be out front leading the way.

Here in Nebraska, union bosses at the Nebraska State Education Association (the Nebraska state chapter of the NEA) are leading the way in a fight for a substantial increase in the starting salary of Nebraska teachers. They also want to increase veteran teachers' salaries by a minimum of 1 1/2 times the starting teachers' salary. To further that position, members of the state government's teacher salary task force recently called for a statewide minimum starting salary of between $27,000 -- $30,000. The proposal was presented by Jim Griess, executive director of the NSEA and five of his union's teachers, who (Surprise, surprise!) are members of the state's teacher salary task force [1] - talk about a union boss's dream come true!

The potential cost of all this? The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that it would cost $15 to $20 million to increase the salaries of the 5,200 teachers who now earn less than $27,000 and another $100 million or more for raises for teachers now earning more than $27,000.

According to a report in the Omaha World-Herald, Griess' union didn't say whether state government or local school districts should ante up the extra money. If it's paid locally, property tax increases could put a quick close on some school districts. If the state foots the bill, hikes in sales and income tax would be sure to follow.

As taxpayers ponder all this, it's likely worth keeping in mind that the NEA is not just an ordinary union. It's a big powerful union. It has 2.5 million members - roughly 25,000 of them from the NSEA in Nebraska. It employs between 550 and 600 people and has an annual budget of $220 million [2]. Its staffers are well paid, have great benefits, and understand their mission.

Their mission? As always, just follow the buck.

Footnotes:

[1] See: Omaha World Herald, Minimum Pay is Trend, 07/31/00.
[2] See: www.hometown.aol.com/educintel/eia/index.html

Dr. Ed Rauchut is president of the Niobrara Institute.(c) Copyright 2000, by the Niobrara Institute, Bellevue University Campus, Box 540787, Omaha NE 68154. The Niobrara Institute is a member of the State Policy Network - an affiliation of state-based research organizations and think tanks that are committed to the principles of constitutional government, market-oriented solutions, and values consistent with the writings of America's Founding Fathers. They can be reached at info@theniobrara.org

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