A disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.
The kitchen table will once again serve as a makeshift desk for millions of students when they head “back to school” in the next few weeks. Seventeen of the nation’s 20 largest school districts have said that they’ll reopen with zero in-person instruction. Nationally, only about 40 percent of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another ten percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction).
In short, close to half the nation’s K–12 schools may begin the new year remotely, a figure that will be far higher in the systems serving the most students. This painful reality, combined with teacher resistance to reopening and parental concerns about student safety, has prompted districts to work overtime promising that remote learning will be much better this fall.
While we’re big fans of making the best of a bad situation, we fear that this misplaced optimism has made it easier than it should be for school leaders to keep the doors locked this fall and has undermined commitment to the contractual arrangements, training, supports, and instruction needed to ensure that remote learning is more than an oxymoron. To be clear, remote learning is wholly in order where the public-health situation has rendered classrooms untenable. But it’s critical that parents, teachers, and school administrators in those locales proceed with no illusions.
This spring’s virtual-learning experiment was underwhelming, to say the least. Researchers at NWEA, Brown, and the University of Virginia have estimated that students will begin the coming school year already woefully behind, with just two-thirds the learning gains in reading and as little as half of the gains in math that we would normally expect. This is hardly a surprise, given that nearly a quarter of students were truant and that, even as the spring semester ground to an end, only a fifth of school districts expected teachers to provide real-time instruction.
Despite assurances from district officials that this fall’s remote instruction will be much improved, there’s a lot of cause for skepticism. For one thing, the evidence is pretty clear that, for most learners, virtual learning today is significantly less effective than classroom instruction. Research suggests that is likely to be particularly true for disadvantaged students.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that school systems worked out the kinks of virtual learning over the summer. Consider New York City’s dismal experience with summer learning. In the nation’s biggest and biggest-spending school district, despite New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza’s pledge that the city’s summer learning plan would get kids “ready to hit the ground running come September,” the program was plagued by the same problems that befell schools last spring — from technical glitches to poor curricula to sky-high truancy rates.
Less than half of districts offered any sort of professional development to their teachers over the summer, and just 20 percent have plans to provide support to teachers in a remote-learning setting. Parents have expressed frustration about the dearth of communication or guidance from their schools, and educators themselves have fretted that they’re not sure, after a lost spring, how they’ll convince students that this fall’s remote learning should suddenly be taken seriously. And, however tough it was for teachers to connect with students this spring, they’d already had six months of in-person instruction to build from; things are going to be exponentially tougher this fall for those teachers who know their students only as pixels and email addresses.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have served as another impediment. Even when the concerns sometimes seem exaggerated, one can appreciate why teachers may be hesitant about in-person schooling. Extraordinarily troubling, however, is that — once schools have gone fully virtual — more than a few union locals seem to be intent on pursuing provisions designed to hinder remote teaching and allow teachers paid as full-time educators to operate as part-time employees.
In Los Angeles, the “tentative agreement” between the district and the union stipulates that teachers will only need to deliver one to three hours of live instruction a day, with the exact amount determined by a complicated distance-learning schedule that incorporates grade level and, weirdly, the day of the week. In San Diego, the tentative agreement between the union and the district calls for three hours of live instruction a day, one “office hour” a day, and two hours of prep time for teachers (during which students are supposed to be doing “asynchronous” work, i.e. watching videos or filling out worksheets).
All of this leaves parents in a tough spot as they contemplate another lost semester, knowing their kids need more than the two hours of Zoom calls and busywork that many schools are offering. Some parents have been found a solution in “learning pods,” small, parent-organized classrooms led by a tutor or teacher that deliver a lot of the benefits of in-person schooling while minimizing risk. Others have turned to virtual charter schools with more purposeful, robust online programs. Still others have sought to transfer to smaller private schools offering some form of in-person learning.
Yet far from celebrating these attempts to do what many schools won’t, the nation’s scolds have apparently decided this a good time to upbraid and obstruct parents who dare to do more than sit and fret. Parents who form learning pods have been lambasted in the New York Times for choosing “to perpetuate racial inequities rooted in white supremacy” and criticized in the Washington Post for “weakening the public education system they leave behind.” Those trying to move their kids to virtual charter schools have been fought by union leaders who, in Oregon, pressured state officials to block such transfers. And in Montgomery County, Md., parents who’d turned to private schools found local officials striving to shutter these options just weeks before the start of school.
When the public-health situation warrants it, remote learning is better than nothing. But, even before we turn to the crushing impacts on working parents and children’s mental health, it’s crucial to appreciate just what a dismal substitute today’s remote learning really is. And, while it’s far from clear that district and union leaders are focused on putting in place the measures that might help, a disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.33
The takeaway is pretty straightforward. In most places, remote learning is going to be a mess this fall. School and system leaders should be doing all they can to reopen schools as rapidly and thoughtfully as their local health context permits. And, in the meantime, educators, community leaders, and policymakers should do all they can to help families find solutions that will work for them.
Their bill won’t pass the Senate, but it tells us what’s coming the next time they’re in charge.
Writing about legislation often feels pointless under divided government, because no partisan bill is going to become law anyway. So it is with the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a labor bill that the Democratic House created and will vote on soon — and that most certainly will not pass the Republican Senate.
These fruitless exercises do give us a sense of what the parties will do when next they seize power, however, and it’s a slow news week, so let’s see what the Big Labor Left has on its mind these days. In short, this is an aggressive bill that doubles down on the coercive unionization system the U.S. already has in place.
A brief primer on that system: Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), private-sector unionization starts with a union trying to get workers to sign cards saying they’d like to join. If half of the workplace signs up, the employer can voluntarily recognize the union (via “card check”); or, far more likely, it can insist on a secret-ballot election. If the union wins, it becomes the workers’ exclusive representative — the business is legally required to negotiate with the union in good faith, and it is illegal for individual workers to negotiate their own deals with the business directly. The law also spells out various “unfair labor practices” ensuring that neither side does anything to interfere with the process. In states without right-to-work, employees unionized this way must support the organization through dues or fees, even if they voted against the union and don’t wish to join it.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest proposed changes:
Bye-bye, right-to-work. Workers everywhere could be forced to financially support unions they don’t want to join, because right-to-work laws would be banned.
Agree to a contract or one shall be imposed upon you. In everyday life, when a contract negotiation fails, the result is that . . . there is no contract. Under the bill, failed negotiations would lead to the business being forced into mediation and eventually binding arbitration with the union.
“Stealth” card check. During the Obama administration, Democrats tried to end secret-ballot elections, so that card check would be the end of the process. This bill isn’t so brazen, but when a union loses an election, the National Labor Relations Board would be able to find the employer guilty of election interference and accept the results of the card check instead of the actual vote.
Better rules for me, worse rules for thee. Struggles between unions and management can get brutal, and much of labor law consists of ground rules for how the two sides fight it out. The bill would shift these rules fundamentally in unions’ favor. Businesses, for example, would face greater liability for their violations and could no longer require workers to sit through anti-union presentations during the workday. Unions, meanwhile, would see restrictions on their behavior lightened, especially regarding strikes: Businesses could no longer discourage strikes by hiring permanent replacement workers, and unions could conduct “secondary” or “sympathy” strikes and boycotts against businesses that aren’t even involved in the negotiations at issue.
Hope you liked Obama’s National Labor Relations Board: I’ve written previously about how the NLRA leaves too much to the discretion of the executive branch, and as a result labor law ping-pongs every time the White House changes hands. The bill would change that, naturally by writing numerous Obama-era rules into the law so no future administration could change them back. It would become harder for businesses to rely on independent contractors rather than full employees; unions could stage “ambush” elections so business owners wouldn’t have much time to make their case; franchise businesses such as McDonald’s would often be considered “joint employers” of people hired by individual franchises, and thus exposed to liability for labor-law violations; etc. I do wish Congress would negotiate an end to these issues and write a compromise into the law, but this is not that.
The time is ripe for a reimagining of labor law. The current system is obviously not serving its purpose, as seen in the enormous decline of private-sector unions in recent decades. There are ways we could make the system more flexible and less coercive (see here for a lot of ideas), giving unions an opportunity to regain a foothold without forcing workers to join. But Democrats appear stuck in the past.
By Eric Boehm • Reason
Given the choice of no longer paying to support unions they didn’t want to join in the first place, lots of public sector workers took it.
Two of the largest public sector unions in the country lost more than 210,000 so-called “agency fee members” in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling that said unions could no longer force non-members to pay partial dues. That case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, effectively freed public workers from having to make “fair share” payments—usually totaling about 70 to 80 percent of full union dues—in lieu of joining a union as a full-fledged member.
Now, annual reports filed with the federal Department of Labor show that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) lost 98 percent of it’s agency fee-paying members during the past year. Another large public sector union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), lost 94 percent of their agency fee-paying members.
Even though unions were preparing for a mass exodus in the wake of the Janus ruling, the numbers are staggering. In 2017, AFSCME reported having Continue reading
By Joy Pullman • The Federalist
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME that people cannot be forced to pay unions they don’t want to join, the country has gone from 28 right-to-work states to 50 right-to-work states overnight. That includes several high-population, heavily Democratic states with strong unions: New York, Illinois, and California.
Over the last century, union membership has gone from a common thing for people in many industries to in recent decades essentially a creature of government employment.
The vast majority of unionized U.S. employees work in government-dominated industries. So, far from the old image of unions representing the working man who needed extra protections because of dangerous conditions, today unions represent mostly white-collar people, largely an army of Continue reading
By Betsy McCaughey • Real Clear Politics
Rank and file government workers won big over union bosses Wednesday, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker who refused to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The court struck down an Illinois law that allowed the union to deduct fees from Janus’s paycheck despite his refusal to join.
The Janus ruling smashes laws in 22 states — including New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and California — that compel nonmembers to support unions. Until now, if you wanted a government job in these states, you had to pay up. But now firefighters, teachers and other public employees won’t have to fork over a penny to a union if they choose not to join. For the average worker who opts out, it will mean hundreds of dollars more in take-home pay a year.
More in workers’ pockets, less in union coffers. Nationwide, unions are expected to forfeit Continue reading
Big Labor: The case of Janus v. AFSCME, now before the Supreme Court, pits an Illinois state employee against a giant government employees’ union in a fight over forcing nonunion workers to pay union fees. That U.S. law still lets states force public employees to surrender their constitutional rights in order to keep their jobs is as surprising as it is disappointing. It should have been overturned long ago.
And, in fact, it almost was. In 2016, in a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court looked as if it would overturn the nearly 40-year-old precedent set in Abood v. Detroit, in which the 1970s court said that public employees could be forced to pay an “agency fee” to unions for collective bargaining.
The case for overturning the precedent looked like a slam-dunk. But following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court was left with just eight members. Instead of overturning Abood, the evenly split court deadlocked 4-4. The Friedrichs case was returned to the notoriously left-wing Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the pro-union, anti-worker law was — surprise! — upheld.
Now, two years later, comes Janus v. AFSCME. In it, Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus sued Continue reading
By Bill McMorris • Washington Free Beacon
The unions behind a failed challenge to Kentucky’s right-to-work law are appealing a state judge’s ruling on its constitutionality.
Teamsters Local 89 and the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor organization, filed an appeal Tuesday to the Kentucky Court of Appeals seeking to overturn Franklin Circuit Court judge Thomas Wingate’s dismissal of a suit challenging right to work. Wingate tossed the suit on Jan. 23 after determining the unions failed to demonstrate that the law, which prohibits union fees as a condition of employment, illegally deprives the union of its private property.
“The KRTW Act does not violate the equal protections afforded by the Kentucky Constitution, nor is it special legislation that was enacted,” the ruling says. “No genuine issue of Continue reading
By Steve Kurtz • Fox News
A $45 monthly fee could end up costing big labor billions. Public unions are getting nervous, while those who don’t like how they operate are claiming the free lunch may be over soon.
An explosive case regarding government employees and the First Amendment that the Supreme Court will hear on Feb. 26 could redefine the relationship between public unions and workers.
Petitioner Mark Janus works at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and didn’t like that a certain amount was deducted from his paycheck — he didn’t believe he should be forced to pay union dues or fees just to be allowed to work for the state. He didn’t agree with the 1.3 million-member AFSCME union’s politics, and so believed, under the First Amendment, he couldn’t be forced to contribute.
In his court filing, Janus quotes Thomas Jefferson, who said to “compel a man to furnish contribution of Continue reading
By The Editors • National Review
In a party-line decision, the Democrat-dominated National Labor Relations Board has decided that employees of contractors can be treated as employees of other companies when . . . well, when it is convenient for Democratic constituencies that they be so treated. The underlying case involved an operator of recycling centers, Browning-Ferris Industries of California, which uses subcontractors to staff some of its facilities. Firms have many reasons for using subcontracted labor, one of which is avoiding entanglement with the NLRB. Tut-tut, say the feds.
But in the more relevant cases, contracting is built into the business model, as it is with franchise restaurants and similar businesses, which are what this case really is about. Most people who work for McDonald’s do not actually work for McDonald’s Corporation, which operates only a small number of the burger joints bearing its name. Continue reading
The Wisconsin governor has created a template for busting unions
By Matt Patterson • Washington Times
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is clearly running for president.
He may or may not win the nomination; he may or may not win the presidency. Even if he never wins another election, Mr. Walker is already the most consequential Republican politician of the last quarter-century, excepting only George W. Bush.
On March 9, with the stroke of his pen, Mr. Walker pierced the heart of Wisconsin organized labor when he signed right-to-work into law. Right-to-work allows workers to opt out of union dues and is viciously opposed by unions who maintain the level of financial support they do only because many workers are forced by federal labor law to pony up.
Right-to-work changes that. It does not forbid unionization; it does not outlaw unions. Labor unions are perfectly free to organize in right-to-work states. The only difference — in right-to-work states they actually have to earn the dues money they collect.
Right-to-work has traditionally been confined to the deep-red South and West. Wisconsin now follows Michigan as right-to-work advances into the deep-blue Midwest and Upper West. Continue reading
Private sector union membership peaked at nearly 36 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s. It’s been downhill ever since.
An unprecedented trend is reshaping the contemporary American workplace: U.S. workers are headed in one direction even as union leaders and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are going full-gallop in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, this development is rarely if ever mentioned in the news pages of the liberal precincts of the mainstream media. That absence is especially unfortunate because the way Americans work is undergoing fundamental change. Continue reading
Summary: For years, a Wisconsin Indian tribe has tried to open a new casino hundreds of miles from its reservation. The controversy over the casino has encouraged the tribe to cut deals with labor bosses in which the unions trade their political support for the tribe’s agreement to help coerce casino workers into joining unions. Now Gov. Walker must decide whether to approve the proposed casino.
Indian casinos make fertile ground for controversy. They mix identity politics involving a long-oppressed group with heavy government regulation, which leads to wheeling and dealing, favoritism and corruption, and Indian casinos also add in the gambling industry, labor unions, and other elements often considered shady.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker must now choose whether to approve a new casino in Kenosha that would be owned by the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin and managed by Hard Rock International, a company owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Continue reading
It’s official: The United Auto Workers lost the representation vote at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant. The cleverly named nooga.com has the story. The vote was close: 89 percent of workers voted, and they rejected the union by a 712-626 vote.
What’s remarkable about this is that the company and the union colluded in trying to get the workers to vote for union representation. The reason is that Volkswagen’s German union, IG Metall, which under German law has seats on the company’s board, wanted to install the UAW as the workers’ bargaining representatives. If you want to see evidence of this collusion, click on the link and look at the expressions on the faces of Volkswagen Chattanooga President Frank Fischer and UAW leader Gary Casteel. These are not happy campers. They still hold out of the prospect of some kind of workers’ council on which the union would represent the workers. But they seem to clearly understand that most of the plant’s employees don’t want UAW representation.
Why not? Continue reading
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals joined federal appeals courts in the District of Columbia and Philadelphia in ruling that the Senate wasn’t really in recess when Obama filled vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during an extended holiday break in January 2012.
On Jan. 4, 2012, President Obama appointed Deputy Labor Secretary Sharon Block, union lawyer Richard Griffin and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counsel Terence Flynn to fill vacancies on the five-member NLRB, which referees labor-management disputes and oversees union elections. At that time, Obama claimed he was making “recess appointments.” However, since the Senate was not in recess, that claim was disingenuous and unconstitutional as it removed the normal checks and balances on presidential appointments. Continue reading