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NEA, the labor union for teachers

By Stephen M. Lilienthal
web posted September 19, 2005

Many parents find it heart-wrenching to take their children to their first day of school. Their young children will never be as innocent. Good teachers could help ease some parental anxiety. Surprisingly and sadly, many parents, perhaps many teachers, are unaware of the political agenda of the National Education Association ("NEA"), to which some 2.7 million public school teachers belong. (The National Teachers Association was the original name of the NEA in the late 1800s but the goals of the current NEA are not the same.)

NEA is a labor union despite its self-characterization as a professional association for teacher training and educational goals. In The Christian Science Monitor Patrick Chisholm wrote on August 24 that the NEA had opposed labor union activities, such as strikes and collective bargaining, until the late 1950s. "By 1973 the NEA had become a full-blown trade union, deducting union dues from teachers' paychecks and agitating for better pay and benefits through strikes and collective bargaining."

NEA and its state affiliates often resist policies and proposals that would not lessen NEA leaders' influence. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation ("EFF") confirmed the NEA position in its July 2004 report, Barrier to Learning: How the National Education Association Prevents Students and Teachers From Achieving Academic and Professional Excellence. The report, which explains NEA policy and strategy, stated that approximately one quarter to one third of NEA members are Republican. The NEA Political Action Committee ("NEA-PAC") overwhelmingly has contributed to Democratic candidates. Senator John F. Kerry won the NEA endorsement last year based upon his 100% voting record on issues preferred by NEA.

The Center for Responsive Politics says 92% of NEA-PAC contributions were given to Democratic candidates in the 2003-2004 election cycle. NEA members, particularly conservatives, should complain about the political contributions NEA has made. (Many NEA and other labor union members are pro-life or pro-Second Amendment and do not want their voluntary union dues spent on political candidates who hold contrary viewpoints or on political activities that bolster objectionable policies.) The NEA agenda surpasses demands for quality education or higher salaries (often camouflaged as "more money for the classroom").

At the 2005 NEA Convention the Representative Assembly, the NEA legislative branch, appeared to be advocating the policies of the Left. NEA Delegates approved "a comprehensive strategy to deal with the new and more sophisticated attacks on [school] curricula, policies, and practices that support [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender] students, families, and staff members in public schools."

Washington Times reporter George Archibald noted that one convention delegate from Pennsylvania was heckled when she opposed a pro-homosexual policy. The Delegate argued that the NEA pro-homosexual policy does not acknowledge that "some people who have same-sex attraction have changed…and instead have successfully actualized their heterosexual potential and are now ex-gay."

NEA welcomed advocates of a homosexual lifestyle but rejected NEA members who favored a traditional lifestyle. Keith Gudorf of Ohio proposed to extend NEA policy on anti-vivisection for animals to its family planning policy. Gudorf said his proposal would encourage "compassion and respect for all living things" to its family planning policy. Not surprisingly, Gudorf's proposal was rejected. California Delegate Diane Lenning wanted to revise NEA policy on sexual-assault to "deplore[s] the advocacy of adult/minor sexual contact." That reformist move also failed.

The NEA Representative Assembly would appear to have concealed NEA policies and to have made the policies representative of NEA members. If NEA truly represented its members more NEA-PAC contributions would have been made to Republican candidates. More respect would have been given to alternative proposals offered at the Representative Assembly. NEA's lack of moral underpinning is disturbing because its members are public school teachers who should, and often do, influence the lives of children. Respect for animal life has appeared to be more important than respect for human life. Radical policies seem to have been embraced; moral values seem not to be respected by NEA leaders in Washington and by NEA state affiliates.

Teachers who reside in "right-to-work" states and who disagree with the NEA agenda are not required to join the union or to pay voluntary union dues. Many teachers reside in non-"right to work" states, are not protected by the federal Right-to-Work Law and cannot decide whether to join or financially support the union but they could elect to challenge the union. The Supreme Court [in Communication Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988)] held that dues-paying non-union employees could request a refund of that portion of their dues which would be spent on political activities. Unfortunately, unions often cannot, or do not, determine what percentage of employee dues have been spent on political activities.

Teachers who have religious objections to union policy have the right to resign from NEA. Teachers with religious objections can either keep a portion of their dues or redirect them to a charity. (The EEF report, Barrier to Learning, contains guidelines that teachers could take to exercise both of these options. EFF has posted the guidelines on its website, www.eef.org, and lists a website http://ichoosecharity.org for teachers who wish to file claims as "religious objectors.")

EEF studied the policy of NEA affiliate Washington Education Association ("WEA") and some documents from litigation involving WEA. Michael Reitz, Director, EEF Labor Policy Center, said the study indicates that 80% of WEA union members contributed to WEA's political fund before the State of Washington implemented its Paycheck Protection Law. Since Washington enacted the Paycheck Protection law fewer WEA union members have contributed to the WEA political fund.

The State of Utah implemented a similar Paycheck Protection Law and the Utah Education Association (UEA) PAC has experienced similar declines, according to the May 6 UEA Now newsletter. The UEA President was photographed at the annual NEA Convention wearing a T-shirt that said: "Girls Just Want To Have Funds."

Teachers who resign from NEA could lose the right to vote in union elections and could suffer termination of their legal liability insurance. More likely, teachers who are former NEA members would be shunned by colleagues who support the NEA Left-wing social agenda. Fortunately, the non-union teachers could join other organizations – the Association of American Educators or the Christian Educators Association.

State and Federal laws should be strengthened to protect union members whose viewpoints are contrary to those of union leaders, particularly when labor unions advocate policies that are not held by all members. Discerning parents who have rejected controversial NEA policy or the curriculum developed for public schools have options. They could home-school their children or send them to private or religious schools that would reinforce their family values.

NEA should be handed its own report card. This union deserves an "F" for not respecting traditional values and an "F" for not respecting the rights of all NEA members, not merely NEA decision-makers. NEA should not exert so much influence over public school education. It's time the American people started learning about the NEA and its policies.

Stephen M. Lilienthal is a policy analyst at the Free Congress Foundation.

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