The NYT Double Standard on Unions and Education Reform

In June of 2014, the New York Times Editorial Board endorsed the efforts in Vergara v. California of California students to have California’s teacher tenure laws declared unconstitutional. The students contended that the laws created an environment that disproportionally disadvantaged minority children by making it virtually impossible for underprivileged schools to keep and retain good teachers.

The laws challenged were enacted, both by statute and through collective bargaining, with strong support from the teachers unions. The Times, to their credit, cut through the rhetoric surrounding the case and offered this sage advice:

“The Legislature is almost certain to face heavy pressure from the teachers’ union, who will try to discredit this ruling by condemning the judge as anti-union or by pointing out that the case was brought by a nonprofit group created by a Silicon Valley magnate. Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”

The Times warning to the teacher’s union was clear: work with the legislature or have change thrust on you by the courts.

Last week the case brought by the students suffered a loss at the California Court of Appeals. They plan to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

While the student’s case was working its way through the California Court system, Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs launched a case of their own that worked its way through the federal courts. As public school teachers, Friedrichs and her co-plaintiff’s object to paying an agency fee that is used by the unions to lobby for, among other things, teacher tenure and assignment policies. The same policies at issue in Vergara.

Friedrichs, who had tried to reform her local union from the inside, was essentially taking the Times advice. She found the union unwilling to reform and therefore turned to the courts.

However, when Rebecca’s case reached the Supreme Court, the Times Editorial Board seemed to forget their advice of just a few years earlier. Getting lost in the rhetoric around the case, they referred to Rebecca and her co-plaintiffs as mere “anti-union activists” who were part of a larger movement “which is funded largely by corporate interests.”

The Editorial Board fell sway to the very talking points they warned about just two years earlier. If the students in Vergara are correct that union-backed policies have been disastrous for students, then Rebecca Friedrichs is correct in that she, as a teacher, shouldn’t be compelled to pay for those very policies.