This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
Early this month, a number of longtime allies of union-label Democrat Party politicians begun staging what amounts to an intervention with the Biden White House and its allies on Capitol Hill.
Pundits like NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz, CNN columnist Jill Filipovic, and Progressive Policy Institute Senior Fellow Paul Weinstein Jr. are exhorting the President and his appointees to stop saying they were 100% right to allow teacher union bosses to dictate their stance on when and how American public schools that had been shuttered early in the COVID-19 pandemic would finally reopen.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden aided and abetted American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) union President Randi Weingarten and her cohorts as they falsely claimed schools would need an additional $116.5 billion from taxpayers before they could safely reopen, and vowed to block their reopening unless they got the loot.
For example, in return for massive cash and “in-kind” political support from Weingarten and other union kingpins, Biden’s Democratic National Committee concocted and aired in key battleground states a fearmongering, summer 2020 TV ad accusing proponents of reopening schools of “ignoring how [COVID-19] spreads” and “risking teachers’ and parents lives.”
Top officials of the AFT and National Education Association (NEA) government unions were pleased as punch by this ad as well as by relentless Biden rhetoric claiming that school reopening in the fall of 2020 would be “just plain dangerous” in school districts where the vast majority of American 5- to 17-year-olds live.
Teacher union bosses loved such messaging partly because it attacked then-President Donald Trump, whom they loathed. They were also overjoyed because Biden and his operatives baselessly frightened many parents into thinking schools were unsafe, and intimidated many local Democrat politicians who might otherwise have heeded already-available scientific evidence showing that reopenings would not result in increased COVID-19 transmissions, hospitalizations, or deaths into allowing schools to remain shuttered despite their own better judgment.
Now everyone knows the DNC and Biden claims about the grave “dangers” of reopening schools without first meeting AFT and NEA bosses’ ransom demands were hogwash. In fact, a recent careful statistical analysis of COVID-19 deaths in the 50 states carried out by the international research firm Bioinformatics CRO found that there is no correlation at all between the stringency of school closures and other governmental lockdown measures and COVID-19 deaths, “after adjusting for each state’s age and obesity rates.”
Fearing that citizens’ anger at Biden for deceiving them during the 2020 campaign and then rubber-stamping an entirely unnecessary $200 billion bailout for Big Labor-dominated government schools in March 2021 could soon do serious harm to the Democrat Party with which they are allied, Kamenetz, Filipovic and Weinstein are calling on the President to admit, at last, that he was wrong to claim fall 2020 school reopenings would be “dangerous.”
In a September 7 op-ed for the Washington Post, Kamenetz went so far as to say that an “apology tour” would be necessary to restore the Democratic Party’s credibility on education issues. Biden might even need to “put a little daylight” between himself and teacher union kingpins!
The reality, of course, is that it is not in Biden’s character to make such an apology. Moreover, no mere apology could quell aggrieved parents’ and taxpayers’ completely warranted concern that, in the future, AFT and NEA bosses will continue to exploit the extraordinary legal monopoly-bargaining privileges over school employees they wield in well over 30 states to grab even more money and power at the expense of other Americans, especially schoolchildren.
In other words, far more than an apology, parents need better education labor policy.
The keys to stopping union bosses like Randi Weingarten from holding children’s education hostage to their self-serving demands are the repeal of every state law authorizing Big Labor to speak for all government-school educators, union members and nonmembers alike, on matters concerning their pay, benefits, and work rules, and thwarting the enactment of any additional state monopoly-bargaining laws.
This is not a problem to which any federal politician has a solution. It is a battle that will have to be fought out in state capital after state capital.