Time for Americans to Take Back Power from Teachers’ Unions

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten speak to the media as then-Senator Kamala Harris (at right) listens in Detroit, Mich., May 6, 2019. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Tuesday was supposed to be a big day for a lot of kids in Oakland — they were supposed to be going back to school. Some of them were to be going to school for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen.

A deal between the school district and the teachers’ union had provided for reopening all of Oakland’s elementary schools, but, in spite of the deal, more than half of teachers are declining to return to the classroom, and so most of Oakland’s schools will not reopen as scheduled. Out of 50 pre-K and elementary schools covered by the agreement, only 21 — fewer than half — will reopen.

A substantial number of teachers — almost a fifth — have indicated that they do not intend to return to school as required in mid April. While acknowledging the damage this is doing to children — isolation, depression, and other mental-health issues — Oakland School Board Director Shanthi Gonzales pleaded powerlessness, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “I wish more teachers were volunteering.” That is what you get when the school district works for the teachers and not the other way around: schools in which the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California.

This isn’t bare-knuckle labor politics — it’s political child abuse.

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The Centers for Disease Control has said that schools can be safely reopened while maintaining social distancing of as little as three feet. And, as we all know, the pronouncements of the CDC are the gold standard for our progressive friends — right up until they run into the demands of an important Democratic constituency, at which point, they become trash. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten says she’s “not convinced” by the CDC’s advice. Weingarten, a lawyer by education and a union goon by profession, is, to say the least, not very well prepared to critically review the CDC’s public-health findings.

We have been through a great deal in the past year, with the schools and other institutions taking extraordinary measures that were generally, even when we disagreed, understandable. But 100 million Americans have now received at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines, and the research overwhelmingly finds that elementary-school education is a relatively low-risk proposition — and that every additional unnecessary delay in the return of ordinary education does real and lasting damage to children, especially to those whose families do not have the resources to adequately pick up the slack. A great many people have worked throughout this terrible episode, many at some considerable personal risk, and not only doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers but also grocery clerks, warehouse workers, and taxi drivers. They have kept the country running while unionized teachers in Oakland and elsewhere have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid.

Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

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