What is it about teachers that reactionaries don’t like?
Maybe it’s because an educated electorate poses a threat to those who seek to control the public—"Danger: Educated Union Member" is one of our favorite phrases—and so teachers pose an easy target for the antediluvians among us. (Remember John Stossel’s ABC trash piece, "Stupid in America"?).
The success of teachers’ unions also draws particular ire from the anti-education crowd.
This week, you may have seen full-page ads in USA Today or teevee spots on CNN and Fox attacking teachers. The ads are part of a $1 million advertising assault on teachers’ unions launched days ago.
Two questions emerge.
Who would spend this amount of money trashing teachers? And who stands to make tons of money off this campaign?
The second question is the simplest to answer. The egregiously misnamed Center for Union Facts is the money-making entity pushing the campaign. The organization is another front group by sleaze propagandist Richard Berman. Among Berman’s list of hatchet jobs is a PR campaign through his American Beverage Institute to slam Mothers Against Drunk Driving on behalf of the alcohol industry. Via the Center for Consumer Freedom, Berman wielded a literally toxic campaign for the tuna industry to encourage pregnant women to eat tuna—never mind the mercury. (AFT’s NCLBlog also points out Berman’s attacks on Robert Redford here.)
Berman regularly reproduces organizations with innocuous-sounding names to perpetrate the opposite of what they seem.
As a result, Berman makes money. Lots of it. He runs five campaigns out of his offices in Washington, D.C., with backers paying "huge fees" to his lobbying firm, according to the Union Busting Network at the non-profit American Rights at Work. Citing USA Today, American Rights at Work notes Berman’s company has 28 employees and earns $10 million a year, but "only Berman and his bookkeeper wife" know how much of the $10 million ends up in their own pockets. Or as the Las Vegas Sun puts it:
[Berman] never discloses his financial backers, allowing large, mainstream companies to fund him without having to associate their brand names with his sharp-elbowed approach.
At the Conservative Leadership Conference in Nevada last October, the Las Vegas Sun notes that when Berman described the tactics behind his teacher attack campaign, he
approvingly quoted mobster Al Capone: “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”
In Ohio, where Berman is aiming his "gun" at the Columbus Education Association, the association sums up his mission:
Not enough Columbus City teachers have been fired between the 2003–04 and 2006–07 school years to satisfy the Center For Union Facts. The anti-labor group posits that it is too easy for many Columbus City School teachers to obtain a continuing contract (known as tenure in other states) and they are therefore able to escape the accountability and scrutiny of the evaluation process.
Berman’s sights clearly are off. Columbus was one of the first National Education Association (NEA) locals to host a Peer Assistance and Review Program, winning a Saturn Award for the program and becoming a centerpiece in former NEA President Bob Chase’s concept of “New Unionism." The program involves intensive hands-on training, conferences, evaluation and mentoring to ensure the highest skill levels among teachers. Further, as Columbus Education Association President Rhonda Johnson stated:
I find it highly ironic, that on the day that this smear campaign begins, the [Peer Assistance and Review Program] panel is meeting to consider whether to make a recommendation to the Superintendent to non-renew 4 intern teachers and to receive reports on three experienced teachers whose [Peer Assistance Review] consulting teachers have grave concerns about their classroom performance.
AFT President Ed McElroy describes Berman as "a shameless lobbyist who has shilled for pesticide, alcohol and tobacco companies."
Berman has a record of using hidden funders to attack groups that contribute a great deal to society. Now, he is coming after teachers at a time when most Americans support education and want to make improving education a top national priority.
The groups funding Berman have lots of money to spend. As part of his teacher attack campaign, he’s inviting nominations for a contest to determine the nation’s worst unionized teachers. The "winners" will be offered $10,000 each if they permanently resign or retire from any career in education—if they sign a release agreeing to have their name and the reasons for their selection published by the group.
This leads us back to the first question: Who would spend this amount of money trashing teachers?
Behind Berman’s Center for Union Mis-Facts, are an array of organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that have an ideological and pecuniary axe to grind. They hate unions and more importantly, the workers who join together in unions to assert their rights as human beings are entitled to decent wages, affordable health coverage and retirement security.
The Las Vegas Sun puts his attack on teachers unions in perspective, saying it is "really a small front in a much bigger battle over the future of the labor movement and its role in American politics."
It’s not clear Berman cares at all about education policy. His real target is the broader labor movement offers profiles of anti-union organizations with details on their lobbying, litigation and media outreach, as well as their connections to each other.
The Sun article goes on:
If the public doesn’t trust the teachers unions, he reasons, surely they won’t trust steel workers or other unions that don’t have such a seemingly beneficent pedigree.
Berman wants lots of money and will do what it takes to keep the feeding at the pig trough. Those paying him to do their dirty work don’t want us, as individuals, joining together to face the boss, the Big Business employer, the corporate conglomeration that profits when we don’t challenge a wage system that means we must work two and three jobs to support our families, or go without prescription medication so we can pay the rent.
Workers in unions challenge that ideological mindset every day. And that’s why Berman is being paid millions to go after us.