By Kathleen Carroll
We watch the chaotic struggles against mass school closures, mass teacher-school employee layoffs, and the proliferation of charter schools. We see the expansion of charter school management organizations and online learning, testing, with associated tech companies taking huge chunks of education tax dollars. We then hear politicians claiming what we have is a budget crisis, yet many of the same names appear over and over. The profiteers that usually emerge within the debate about privatizing public education include Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Michelle Rhee and her Students First, and the Milken Foundation, just to name a few.
But what is missing from the debate is the fact that teacher union officials themselves are active participants in the scheme to monetize and profit from the public education system. Our public education system was built-up over hundreds of years with taxpayer money.
The labor struggles before and during the Depression Era are well documented. Why do labor unions including national teacher unions NEA and AFT exist? They exist because fearless workers risked and sometimes lost their lives to improve working conditions for future generations of workers. Sacrifices were made so those future works would have safe working conditions, a livable wage, benefits such as health care and the 8-hour work day. The labor union is supposed to protect against human exploitation of workers for unlimited profits, at least that is the lesson of the tragic Triangle Fire (http://www.mobiletechreview.com/notebooks/MacBook-Air-2013.htm history of Triangle Fire).
In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed. The NLRA outlawed practices that gave rise to the prohibitive “company union” and prohibited companies, government, or management from running, controlling or managing the union workforce. The NLRA prohibited the union bureaucracy from being incorporated within a company’s-government’s management.
So, workers are supposed to run-manage unions, not businesses, or company-government managers. This makes sense, since it is the workers fighting-negotiating collectively to have a contract containing provisions for a living wage, benefits, safe working conditions, a grievance process, and protection against arbitrary and politically motivated firings or layoffs.
Within businesses and government management struggles not for workers’ rights, but to maintain a high profit margin and high executive compensation. Of course this dictates worker exploitation including reduced worker wages and is the antithesis of why a labor union exists.
We are overly bombarded by billionaires running advertisements, to fund their next get rich quick scheme to “TAP” into the public education tax dollar spigot. In fact, we are so bombarded that too few of us hear what the union brass is doing.
In 1995 the late Helen Bernstein was president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). At that time Ms. Bernstein and Adam Urbanski (then UFT New York, now AFT vice president) formed a non-profit Teacher Union Reform Network “TURN” with a grant from the PEW charitable trust. TURN now has affiliates throughout the country at the national, state, and local levels; see the TURN exchange network. TURN leadership is now headed by AFT vice-president Adam Urbanski.
What might be surprising to teachers is that TURN takes money from the billionaires. These billionaires are certainly not looking out for worker rights, but instead concentrating on vigorously busting up the labor unions and squashing collective bargaining rights. The Gates and Broad Foundations have each given millions to TURN. Union leaders such as Karen Lewis (president of Chicago teachers union) spoke at TURN’s 2012 national convention, and Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier and Linda Darling Hammond did likewise in 2013.
In the Broad Foundation 2009 Annual Report at page 10 the foundation exuberantly admits to “investing” in union leaders like Randi Weingarten (AFT president) to run/manage incentive based compensation. (Doesn’t this seem like the very prohibitive “company union” outlawed back in 1935 to prevent exploitation of the workforce?) This type of merit based, union busting tactic has been criticized by Diane Ravitch on her blog and in her books. So, why is Ravitch speaking at TURN’s national convention? And was she paid to do so? If paid, was she paid by the very same privatizers she had so vehemently exposed in her published books “Reign of Error” and “Death and Life of the Great American School System”? What a strange TURN of events.
Under the banner of fostering labor-management collaboration, TURN has drastically shifted the purpose of a labor union. TURN is just another organization taking money from profiteers under the guise of improving teacher effectiveness. Teachers bear witness to the massacre of their collective bargaining rights. They are losing tenure laws, dismissal rights, and protection from arbitrary layoffs and firings. Most teachers are numb from shock, but continue to blame the fat cats for siphoning off public education tax dollars. The fat cats exist and what they are doing is absolutely wrong. But would the effort to privatize our public education system ever have gotten off the ground without the cooperation of those money conflicted union officials who were willing to be bought off? It is not clear when the union officials “TURNed” against collective bargaining rights, but it is clear that they have.
Take a quick look at Randi Weingarten and you will find Randi is a trustee at New Visions for Public Schools, which is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, by Gates, and by Milken, the junk bond felon. Publicly available reported IRS 990 forms show that Randi is on the board of Green Dot New York Charter School and the board of New Visions for Public Schools. Keeping Randi company on the Brooklyn Green Dot board was board member Nadya (aka Nadine) Dabby. Take a quick look at Dabby and you will find she is paid by the Broad Foundation, and that California Governor Brown appointed Dabby (a Broadie) to the State’s Allocation Board.
Broad’s relationship with Randi Weingarten goes back over a decade as readily admitted in the 2009 Broad Foundation annual report. Too many illicit non-profits to list receive funds not only from the billionaire foundations, but also from rank and file teacher money, e.g., the AFT Innovation Fund. These funds seek to shift focus away from teacher collective bargaining right, and instead misdirect public focus on the scam so-called problem with “ineffective” teachers. The very frequent occurrence of the “grossly ineffective teacher” term in the recent Vergara decision made one feel brainwashed reading the decision. Maybe that was indeed the goal, to ensure the public would believe there indeed exists a serious problem with “grossly ineffective teachers”.
Hopefully the public is smarter than the scam artists realize. There exists a serious problem with income inequality between the very rich and the rest of society. A child going to school hungry or facing other socioeconomic factors at home, e.g., inability to read, write or speak English, will have hurdles that will
be difficult to overcome regardless of what teacher is in that child’s classroom.
It should be noted that Green Dot Public Schools is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. This means if they are to see profits, they must expand, which in TURN means more traditional public schools must close, so more lost jobs.
The unions have formed and partnered with many illicit non-profits, with union busters buying off union officials, e.g., California Teacher Association’s Institute for Teaching (IFT). Dean Vogel, a school counselor, is both president of CTA and CEO of CTA’s non-profit IFT. Dean Vogel was paid $174,000 (according to 990 form filed June 2012 with IRS), and received an additional $85,000 reportable income from related organizations … asserting only one hour of work per week on this 990 filing. Yes, read that again: Dean Vogel makes $174, 000 plus $85,000 for one hour per week just at the non-profit. Of course this sum does not include any additional income Mr. Vogel makes from other sources, perhaps a school district. CTA’s IFT has taken money from Bechtel Foundation, from the Gates Foundation, and from the Hewlett Packard Foundation. Eric Heins is IFT secretary and Micki Cichocki is IFT’s CFO. The same IRS 990 filing shows David Sanchez (former CTA president) received $193,000 compensation, plus an additional $89,000 in reportable income. Per the IRS 990, Carolyn Doggett (former CTA executive director was paid $298,000 and an additional $131,000 in reportable income. Gail Mendez was paid $190,000 and an additional $93,000 in reportable income, while poor Beverly Tucker was only paid $103,000. Note according to the IRS 990 form, these figures are for the individual’s working only one hour per week!
Should teachers always try to improve teacher quality? Yes, but not at the expense of collective bargaining rights. Such tradeoff is not the role of any labor union. The public-private partnerships are nothing more than unethical and illegal conflicts of interest to boost the bottom line of the profiteers. It is the profiteers who stand to gain the most from the scam assertion that a serious problem with teacher effectiveness exists. For-profit teacher preparation programs are more than willing to step in to solve the fictitious problem … for a fee. Similarly the various technology companies are chomping at the bit for their chance to get those public education tax dollars. Don’t be fooled by all the scams!
So, what can teachers do to restore their labor union’s role as that of an advocate for worker rights? Teachers must work to remove the many, many conflicts of interest. These conflicts exist at the local, state and national delegate/official levels, and must be removed immediately. Otherwise, it will be only a matter of time before the fat cats laugh all the way to the bank as they boast about how easy it was to get teachers to pay for their own demise. Sadly on their trip to the bank, they will perhaps pass a few boarded-up public schools.
Kathy Carroll is an attorney, government whistleblower and public education advocate