By Prof. John Frary
Maine Wire columnist
Most people know about the vanguard of the union-busting gang. They’ve seen the videos of corporate thugs in tasseled loafers beating up peaceful picketers and photos of Exxon vice presidents hurling bricks at white-haired school-marms. Members of Maine’s Mural Majority still grieve over the sacred icons removed from the office of the state’s labor department by the Blaine House Brute.
(If anyone’s still interested, those fateful murals now live somewhere in California under an SEIU mural protection program disguised as table-runners.)
What most people don’t know is how deep and pervasive this union-busting fury has grown among Democrats, even liberal Democrats. Gloria Romero, who served as California’s Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2008, stands out among them. Ms. Romero now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a coalition of liberals determined to improve accountability in public schools in the face of fierce opposition from the teachers’ unions.
Mainers who remember Eliot Cutler’s 2010 campaign will see a parallel. Those who don’t can go to the still-extant Cutler2010.com website and read this statement from October of that year: “Our school systems and our teachers were fitted for straightjackets by the union, and Libby Mitchell and the Democratic Party leadership zipped them up. For too long we have been paying too much for too little. While our enrollments have been going down, our costs have been going up. Student performance is lagging. Yet, year after year the teachers’ union and Libby Mitchell have teamed up to protect the status quo … ”
He had this to say in a Bangor Daily News op-ed on July 1, 2010: “Libby Mitchell got the endorsement of the teachers’ union last week, and she should have. The union that represents teachers in Maine — the Maine Education Association — recently interviewed four candidates for governor. Since the room was full of teachers, you would have thought that the questions would be about improving education, preparing young people for the future, growing Maine’s economy, rewarding good teachers, stretching our education dollars and so forth. But you would have been wrong.
“Throughout four pages and eight long questions, the word ‘student’ appeared twice in just one question, and even then only in asking whether teacher evaluations should be based upon measures of student performance (of course they should, but the teachers’ union says no.) There was not another mention of students or any reference to parents, taxpayers or creating jobs.
“Here is what the MEA wanted to talk about: raising taxes, protecting the union’s first-class health plan, easing working conditions, higher teacher salaries (regardless of competence and performance) and a tax exemption for retired teachers.”
The teachers’ unions suffer most from liberal union busting, but the other public sector unions are not immune. Cutler’s explanation for abandoning his life-long Democratic Party affiliation was that the Maine Democratic Party had become the tool of “special interests” among whom public sector unions stand out. Romero’s criticism of union political domination in California includes the lot. In an interview with a Wall Street Journal reporter, she described the California Democratic Party as obedient servants of the union bosses. Referring to the California legislature she says: “There’s no other way to say it politely. It’s owned.”
She saw this clearly when she held oversight hearings on warden contracts and discovered her colleagues were happy to have the state paying guards $1,500 extra for getting annual physicals. Her reaction: “Should you get over-pay just because you breathe?”
Maine now has its own Gloria Romero in Terry Hayes (D-Buckfield), the 2010-12 Assistant House Democratic Whip. In telephone interviews last month she described Maine’s union leaders as a “stinky infestation” of Maine’s Democratic Party that demands “absolute obedience” and, in fact, “everything the Republicans have been saying about union influence is true.”
Coming from Governor LePage those plain, blunt judgements would no doubt have provoked scandal, but, like Senator Romero, Representative Hayes had long seen herself as sympathetic to the interests of union membership. She had been a willing dues-payer to the MEA when she taught school. The AFL-CIO gave her a 94% total “pro-worker” rating for 2011-12 .
But this does not qualify as “absolute obedience.” Her 2011 rating had been a meager 88%, and she was very naughty as a freshman when she voted seven times in seven roll calls against a bill concerning in-home day-care providers, which the union leadership favored. What’s worse, she is on record as saying she does not “support using the legislature as an agent of collective bargaining.” It’s easy to see their problem with that kind of talk. Having done so much to elect a Democratic majority, they didn’t want any impediment to “using” it.
So when Terry Hayes sought the Democratic Caucus’s nomination for House Speaker in November, union leaders called its members forbidding them to vote for her. They did not call around in favor of any competitors for leadership positions. They knew they could rely on them for absolute obedience. Their sole concern was to foil the selection of a potential mutineer.
This union-busting zeal has spread well beyond Maine and California.
On his first day in the governor’s mansion in 2005, Indiana’s Mitch Daniels stopped the deduction of state workers’ union dues automatically. It turned out that most of those workers were union busters too. They chose not to pay. And when he ran for re-election in 2008, it turned out that 57.8% of the state’s voters were union-busters as well. They voted for him.
And worst of all, there’s Wisconsin. When the unions and their Democratic allies launched their recall counter-attack against Scott Walker, the Darth Vader of union-busting, 1,334,450 volunteers boarded the Republican Death Star and blasted the Democrats’ Luke Skywalker, Tom Barrett, out of the firmament. No wait, the worst of it was the exit poll conducted for ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press, showing that 38% of the Walker votes came from people living in union households. That number probably included the 34,033 public workers who left AFSCME when Darth Vader allowed them the choice of not paying dues. Presumably the 28,785 who remained stuck with Luke.
The June 2012 recall results may seem a bit puzzling in light of Barack Obama’s decisive Wisconsin victory in November, but the president has made some mild union-busting gestures and sounds himself. He claims to favor measures for getting rid of incompetent teachers, which the teachers’ unions opposed, and Arne Duncan, his secretary of education, is promoting charter schools, which they see as a threat to their domination of public education.
And now Michigan—Michigan!—has passed a Right-to-Work law. That turns out to be a complicated and interesting political story going back a number of years, but the salient fact remains. The unions pushed a referendum to make such laws unconstitutional. The voters rejected it. The Republican legislature took the hint. The Republican governor reversed his earlier opposition to the RTW legislation. And now the unions and their supporters are talking about civil war, blood in the streets and recall.
It will be interesting to discover how many Michigan voters are union-busting goons.
Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former U.S. Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:email@example.com.