Sunday, October 28, 2012

Government Unions and Public Education ... Inside California Politics ... A Democratic Party Leader's Perspective

Gloria Romero is certainly not a well known political figure.

What she has to say is, however, worth listening to when it comes to public sector unions in general and especially those in California. She tells it like it is as an up from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks-highly-educated Democratic politician who is vitally interested in the reform of public education.

So let's listen carefully to what she has to say. It's somewhat disturbing but not all that surprising.

Gloria Romero: The Trials of a Democratic Reformer is subtitled "In California's capital, union officials walk around like they're God.' This pro-labor former legislator wants to bring them back to earth:"

". . . Gloria Romero, a pro-labor Democrat who served as California's Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2008 (describes) the capitol building in Sacramento (as) "the eighth most powerful economy in the world . . .," and it operates not unlike other wealthy kleptocracies. "There's no other way to say it politely. It's owned."

Topping the list of proprietors is the California Teachers Association, which she calls the most muscular union and political player in the state. Then there are the unions for nurses, prison guards, firefighters and police. Call them California's "deep state."

Ms. Romero now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a large tent of liberals who are as diverse as an Occupy encampment but united by a common desire to improve accountability in public schools. The group supports Democratic school reformers running for political office and promotes legislation that toughens standards.

But before taking up her current charge, Ms. Romero served a dozen years in the legislature, where she was known for trying to clean up the capital's cronyism and corruption.

It wasn't exactly glamorous work, but it was eye-opening. "I've sat in all of those backroom meetings," she says. "That thing, if walls could talk, well think of me as a wall, and I'm talking. I've had it."

And talk she does, reflecting on how public unions have run (and overrun) the statehouse and how disgruntled, reform-hungry citizens like herself can take it back. . . . The deck is stacked against her, she knows, but she's got a record of beating the odds. . . .

Few students in her high school went on to college, but Ms. Romero enrolled at Barstow Community College and later transferred to California State University, Long Beach. She went on to earn a doctorate in psychology from the University of California, Riverside, and to become a professor at Cal State, Los Angeles. Her interest in civil rights and social justice motivated her in 1998 to run for assembly in East Los Angeles, where she developed a reputation as a labor and community advocate....

In 2001, she won a special election to replace state Sen. Hilda Solis, who had been elected to Congress in 2000. On Ms. Romero's first day in office, she was placed on the prison-reform committee, "which nobody wants," but "I take it seriously. I visit virtually every prison in California. You go there and then you start looking at the numbers. Seventy percent of inmates do not have a high school diploma." Education, she says, "is a civil-rights issue. If we don't educate, we incarcerate." . . .

Most power in the legislature resides with committee heads. So in 2008 she stepped down as majority leader to spend her last two years in the Senate (she was term-limited in 2010) as chairman of the Education Committee, pushing reforms to increase teacher and school accountability.

That's when she discovered the real kings of Sacramento. California Teachers Association officials "walk around like they're God." She recalls knocking on Democratic doors trying to line up votes. "They always wanted to know where's CTA," because that's "their sugar daddy."

"I remember sitting in Democratic caucus" and hearing lawmakers call the unions "our allies, our friends and allies," she says. "And I thought, the NAACP is never included." Grass-roots school-reform groups were also "never included. Our 'allies' are SEIU, CTA, the California school employees." . . .

Ms. Romero credits the CTA for its savvy and chutzpah. The union has killed or hijacked nearly every reform bill that has popped up in the legislature. In 2010 it even sank a bill to let high school teachers volunteer to be evaluated by students. "Nobody would see [the evaluation] except the teacher, and CTA fought it tooth and nail. They really were of the opinion that 'we run the place.' . . . Their basic argument was that it's the nose underneath the camel's tent. So you can't do anything, because once you do something," the lid on reform is "lifted. So they just kill it."

This year the unions torpedoed a bill (introduced by Democratic State Sen. Alex Padilla) that would have made it easier for districts to fire teachers who molest students. Same for legislation to strip pensions from teachers who have sexual relationships with students. The unions claimed the bills infringe on due process and First Amendment rights.

Ms. Romero did manage to get "one past them and it was a big one." In 2010, her last year in the Senate, she wrote the nation's first "parent trigger" law allowing parents to take over underperforming schools and transform them by gathering a majority of parent signatures....

The unions exacted revenge by bulldozing Ms. Romero's bid for state superintendent of schools later that year. They ran ads calling her a"dangerous" tool of "wealthy charter school advocates" and bankrolled her opponent, the reliably antireform Democrat Tom Torlakson. He won.

And the unions continue to fight furiously against the trigger law's implementation. Union members intimidated parents who attempted to take over McKinley Elementary in Compton two years ago, demanding that the parents bring photo IDs to the school; some of the parents were illegal immigrants. . . .

As for the nurses union, well,"everybody loves nurses. But if you go to Sacramento, you see a whole different side." Ms. Romero recalls partnering with Mr. Huff on a bill to let non-nurses administer the drug Diastat to epileptic children experiencing seizures. The nurses tried to euthanize the bill, she says, because they "wanted to insist that every school have a nurse."

"They'd rather see a little kid go into a coma possibly, wriggle on the floor," she says. "Nobody can help. Just call 911. It's heartless." Fundamentally, "it was a jobs issue" to the nurses union. "Everything is a jobs issue, and more than that, it is a membership issue, and more than that it is a dues issue. Pure and simple. How do you grow dues?"

Unlike nonprofits, political parties, corporations and Super PACs, unions don't need to raise money since they can finance their political activities through automatic payroll deductions. Consider: There are more than 300,000 California Teachers Association members, and each pays about $170 annually in non-agency fees. That works out to about $50 million each year to throw around—and that's just the teachers.

Ms. Romero believes the only way to bring down the public unions—and "they will be brought down, they must be brought down"—is to go after "what feeds the beast." In other words: payroll deductions. . . .

"If we don't deal with how the beast is fed, and what maintains that, and what gives it status and opportunity to run roughshod over the educational lives and futures of six million kids in California, then shame on us," she says."


There are tremendous differences between private and public sector unions and how they operate.

Ms. Romero describes the public sector unions in California and how they operate as an unrestrained monopoly. My guess is that many other Democratic Party run legislatures, such as Illinois, New York, Michigan, Nevada and elsewhere, operate pretty much the same way California does. And for one simple reason. The government unions and the Democratic Party's leadership are joined at the hip. Each supports the other all the way.

In the private sector, however, unions have a major stake in the competitive success and ongoing viability of the companies whose employees they represent. If a company goes broke in the private sector, the union loses members and their dues, pure and simple.

Of course, that's not the case in the public sector. Unlike companies, governments don't go broke, so unions feel free to take as much as they can get. And due to their "special relationship" with their Democratic Party "opponents" on the other side of the bargaining table, they can get a lot.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers, kids and most adult citizens, including all too often those public sector employees represented by the unions, get something else. They get the shaft.

Thanks. Bob.

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