Issues & Insights

Democrats (Accidentally) Make The Case Against Teachers’ Unions

I&I Editorial

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests/riots calling for “defunding the police,” Democrats have started targeting police unions, saying they are obstacles to accountability and reform. Do they realize that the same can be said of teachers’ unions?

In a recent interview about reforming the police in his city, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said that “The elephant in the room with regard to police reform is the police union. … We do not have the ability to get rid of many of these officers that we know have done wrong in the past due to issues with both the contract and the arbitration associated with the union.” He said that it “sets up a system where we have difficulty both disciplining and terminating officers who have done wrong.”

Minneapolis City Councilman Steve Fletcher said the police union “operates a little bit like a protection racket.”

Frey and Fletcher won’t get an argument from us. Like other public-sector unions, police unions serve mainly to fatten salaries and benefits at taxpayer expense, make it harder to fire bad employees, and then dump campaign cash on the same people they are “negotiating” with.

It was Franklin Roosevelt, of all people, who understood the inherent problem this arrangement poses, warning back in 1937 that “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

A Duke Law Journal study looked at 178 police union contracts and found that “a substantial number … unreasonably interfere with or otherwise limit the effectiveness of mechanisms designed to hold police officers accountable for their actions.”

The New York Times reports how police union membership has been climbing even as private-sector union membership has plunged, and that this gives unions “resources they can spend on campaigns and litigation to block reform. A single New York City police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races since 2014.”

“The greater the political pressure for reform, the more defiant the unions often are in resisting it — with few city officials, including liberal leaders, able to overcome their opposition,” the Times reports.

No kidding.

All this applies equally, if not more so, to teachers’ unions. Through the collective bargaining process, they’ve made it nearly impossible to fire a teacher, unless the school wants to spend roughly two years and $200,000 doing it, according to Stanford Professor Terry Moe.

Teachers themselves admit that this is a problem. A survey by NPR and Ipsos looked at the views of K-12 teachers across America, with roughly half members of teachers’ unions and half non-unionized. Among the findings: 62% of organized teachers and 64% of non-unionized teachers agreed that the unions make it harder to fire bad teachers.

A study by the Fordham Institute looking at what it takes to fire bad teachers found that “For the most part, state and local policies create a tortuous maze of paperwork, regulations, and directives. Teachers who receive years’ worth of ineffective ratings are given multiple chances for improvement and reevaluation, and a single procedural violation by the administration starts the process over again.”

Teachers’ unions are the biggest and most relentless obstacle to education reforms such as charter schools and education savings accounts that would put more control in the hands of parents and break the union stranglehold over public education.

But don’t expect Democrats to ever extend their reasons for hating police unions over to teachers, for the simple reason that teachers’ unions dump far more money on Democrats than police unions.

While police unions give heavily to Democrats, they also support Republican candidates.

As one House Democratic leadership aide told Axios, “Police unions are very different. They’re very conservative, a lot of them are even Republican. They don’t have the same progressive beliefs.”

But teachers’ unions? In the past 28 years, they gave 96% of their campaign contributions to Democratic candidates. And they are huge contributors. In 2016, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association gave $64 million in political donations.

The result: student test scores have stagnated while per-pupil costs continue to climb. Millions of children remain stuck in failing schools. But hey, it’s mainly a real problem only for those in poor, minority neighborhoods. Why would Democrats care about that?

Now that the public is opening its eyes to the harm done by one public-sector union, perhaps it will start to realize that being anti-teachers’ unions isn’t the same as being anti-education.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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I & I Editorial Board

The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.


  • Unions also funnel money to Democrats running for office, whom they negotiate their next contract with. Union dues are the mother’s milk of Democrat politicians

    • And, ironically, a majority of their members vote Republican in many cases.

      • Many Republican politicians are into union busting rather than competing for the votes of union members. Union leaders are often interest groups in the Democrat machine. It could be effective to offer better lives to union members in their communities in order to get their votes.Dividing workers by leading them to be jealous of others, including union members, leaves union members insufficient choice.

      • I hear that a lot, but my eyes tell me something different. Or if true why do the lefties keep getting elected?

      • That simply is not true! Go to, amoung many other political donation trackers, and you will see that 99% of all public sector union donations go to leftist democrats. Why would someone give soooo much to democrats and then vote republican. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

    • There is a huge difference between a public sector union and a private sector union: the private union bargains for a company’s profits, so it’s just between those two parties; the public union bargains with the politician to get the tax payers money. Huge difference! The taxpayer doesn’t have a seat at the bargaining table. This is why public sector employees make twice as much when you consider the golden pensions and benefits public employees receive. Bottom line: it is not sustainable!

  • These issues are intertwined. Police unions protect bad police officers, making interactions with the police more dangerous. Teachers unions protect bad teachers who produce poorly educated citizens, making interactions with the police more likely. This harms poor and minority populations disproportionately.

  • If you think about it getting rid of the teachers union is far more important than ditching the police union. It`s the failed education system that leads to this systematic criminal element in certain races and inner cities.

    Our lousy education system is the training camp for criminals. When 75% of male black youth can`t read or do math to a grade level what do you expect to happen.

  • This is a thoughtful article. Too insightful, however, for public consumption… due in large part to the simultaneous siezure of education by the Left and the failure of the public schools to teach reading for comprehension and critical thinking.

    The problems of the inner cities will persist forever, unless and until the schools are good, the streets are safe, and the culture accepts working for a living as a worthy undertaking. Until then, all efforts and all money spent to try to change things will just be more waste down the same rat hole.

  • It goes beyond the ability to fire a bad teacher. How about firing entire schools failing in Baltimore?

  • Although I agree with most that teachers play a role, I think many of you underestimate how much of this about the parents, the home environment, and genetics. You can lead a horse to water, etc. Teachers have to deal with behavior, emotional, discipline, etc issues. In the old day the principal used to put them in line. Now with no punishments (you cant suspend even kids who hit teachers) and no discipline learning is more impaired than ever. And no one wants to admit that we are not all created equal. Some are smarter, some are faster, some are more mechanically inclined etc. And a brick layer shouldnt be paid the same as a teacher, who shouldnt be paid more than a doctor, who shouldnt be paid more then a Fortune 500 CEO, etc. Our general unwillingless to acknowledge (and value) our differences combined with greed and envy is going to be the driving factors in the fall of the American Empire.

  • Well this is interesting.

    I have advocated for many years that the civil service rules and union rules should banned in the public sector. In both cases these organizations prohibit any accountability against any employee that in reality means no one ever gets punished or terminated for their actions.

    This fosters massive corruption, poor work quality by many and massive expensive benefits and pension cost for taxpayers. These people in many cases are grossly over paid and under worked. Remember the “rubber” rooms in NYC where those “teachers” unable and/or unwilling sat in an empty room all day.

    Get rid of the dead wood now.

  • Not only do the teacher’s unions make it tough to fire bad teachers they are the force behind Democrat obstruction to school choice opportunities for black communities.
    Failed urban schools = 20% of blacks read proficiently at 3rd grade level.
    This dooms their future to the very outcomes protesters have rioted over.
    Among other things detrimental to kids that unions insist Democrats impose.

  • Does anybody else here remember Walter Reuther? He was president of the United Auto Workers and the CIO. He was also a member of the Socialist Party, who later resigned and joined the Democratic Party (I think in 1947). He also opposed public sector unions!

  • This article did the same thing that the fake news does when regardless of the subject it attacks Donald Trump. The article used current events to attack teachers unions. Due process makes firing good teachers more difficult. The difficulty in firing bad teachers is exaggerated, because most teachers, good or bad, are pushed out, not by going through due process, but by harassment. Due process is necessary for all. That includes criminal suspects. Just as there are criminals who do the wrong things, there are police officers who do the wrong thing. There are also bosses who do the wrong thing and whose actions should be reviewed. Bosses often choose to remove personnel for personal and corrupt reasons in unfair ways.

    • If they are driven out, why do so many lousy teachers still infect the system?

      • Those driven out are often not lousy. Bosses want the supervisors and teachers under them to be their creatures. Driving out staff also gives the appearance of improving education. That is scapegoating. It is often not based on merit. The education systems want to improve educational statistics, not education. There is an old adage that might apply; you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. That is not to put down students. However, students are often being given tasks not appropriate for them. Think of a boxing manager arranging fights that are not appropriate and gets his fighters injured.

  • I have no comment about your views of the teachers’ unions; I do question your grasp of the problem.

    when all teachers are leftist indoctrinators (say, 90% or so), just getting rid of the bad teachers is hardly the problem. they’re all bad.

    it was not unusual for me to have a nearby classroom in constant uproar, chairs bouncing off walsl occasionally, teacher begging, ‘please!’

    such folks should not be called teachers. but then neither should the public school indoctrinators.

    thereby I do not believe it’s only in poor neighborhoods. and I believe that you have a long outdated view which presupposes today’s teachers really teach, or that schools really school, or that students really stoont.

    • You have to consider how much of what you describe is decided by management. Management wants to not solve problems. Teachers reporting problems are often told that they are the problem. They are supposed to cover for their bosses. Management sets the standards for getting help in the classroom. Management selects the books, which are politically correct. Management has tried to gives partial credit for math problems to students who add 34 + 34 as 88 because one number is correct. Teachers who are well informed and content oriented are not supported because they have standards.

  • “ When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children”

    — Albert Shaker, American Federation of Teachers

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