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December 15, 2007 12:43 AM UTC

How many Dems will join Peter Groff in standing up to teachers' unions?

  • by: Another skeptic

Great David Harsanyi column in the Denver Post.

Impact graphs:

Unions still oppose reform. So what does that tell you?

“It’s gotten to the point where I am tired of trying to make sure everyone is happy but students – when they should be the first ones on the list,” says Peter Groff, a Democrat and the new state Senate president.

The issue of school independence was brought to the forefront recently when Bruce Randolph School in Denver, attempting to save its school from failing grades and closure, requested sovereignty from the bureaucratic muddle imposed on it by the district and the union.

The idea of allowing all Colorado schools to control their own budgets, hiring and curriculum is growing.

Groff will be bringing forward such progressive legislation this session.

Unions, naturally, already oppose the idea. Where Gov. Bill Ritter – who likes to tell us he’s “fighting for children” – will fall should tell us more about where his loyalties lie.

Groff says it’s something he’s been thinking about for a while. “I think this idea will give the principal and teacher the ability to craft programs that will directly impact the students they have in the classroom. The principal may say, ‘This is what we need to do for these kids to bring them up to proficiency and above.’ Second, it gives parents the ability to pick and choose schools in the district that work for their kids.”

How will Groff, who unlike many of his party’s counterparts isn’t beholden to the Colorado Education Association (CEA), overcome entrenched interests in the legislature?

How will Groff slide such an idea past Sue Windels, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee?

After all, Windels’ notion of an independent thought consists of slightly altering the wording of CEA talking points.


9 thoughts on “How many Dems will join Peter Groff in standing up to teachers’ unions?

  1. always.

    Just what would a principle at the Indy Bruce Randolph school do that is different?  And where would this indy money and hence budget come from?  Bake sales?  Who fixes the furnace, and how does it get a long term capital budget for a new roof?  What about federal and state mandates?  

    Anyway, sounds pretty much like a charter school.  

    If Groff and friends can come up with something truly different and with potential, I’m all ears.  But I can’t see how, teacher’s union or no teacher’s union.  

  2. In my opinion, unions are focused on public institutions in Colorado – like schools – for three major reasons:

    1. Work Rules.  Unions set work rules, which limits the ability of employees to do more than one task in a job.  There are separate jobs for the guy who changes light blubs, the guy who drives the bus, the teacher, etc.  That maximizes the number of jobs by limiting cross-over between jobs even when the tasks are pretty simple.  That also unnecessarily inflates wage expenses.  Unions in public entities means more workers, and squabbling over job descriptions and rules, but not necessarily better or more efficient operations.

    2. Political Money.  Unions use public agency payroll systems to automatically deduct union dues and PAC contributions from members and funnel those dollars to political candidates and union causes.  In Colorado, small donor committees can make political contributions that are 10 times the limit for individual donors ($4,000).  Unions can automatically funnel their members’ dues to such committees and effectively buy political influence in Colorado.  When the payroll deductions are not available to unions, voluntary contributions from employees plummet.  Under Ritter’s executive order a public service union can be formed by the simple majority of those voting, which means if there are 100 employees, and 50 participate in an election and only 26 vote for the union, the union is in, and the money starts to flow from 100 employees.

    3.    Mobility.  In the private sector, capital is mobile.  If Levi-Strauss operates a jeans factory, and a union forms, Levi-Strauss can pick up its machines and move to Mexico.  That’s not true with giverment operations.

  3. Harsanyi and Another skeptic premise their position on the belief that unions are the problem with the education system. I am not a teacher, but this again sounds like the same old right wing rant about school choice.  Let parents move kids to the good schools in the suburbs and private facilities then blame the unions for the rest of the problems. Forget trying to focus on all schools and do not offer any real reform measures other than “school choice” and blame the unions because their are a few bad teachers. There are bad employees in every field and most are getting paid higher than teachers, probably to include Harsanyi who thinks all employees should be at will and under the absolute “free market” authority of whoever is signing the paycheck.  Due process and equal rights on the job are “un-American” according to many of these right wing cronies.  Power should never be given to the people doing the work, that would upset some CEOs who may not be able to fire people with or without cause, or act in a questionable manner without accountability.

    Get to the point and state that this is pure politics and nothing more. Business

    out spends labor about 15 to 1 across the board in elections, but labor still gives too much cash to Democrats and that upsets the other party, so keep lying and do everything possible to keep unions down. Keep the United States number one as the most anti-employee, anti-labor nation in the industrialized world.

    The law (Beck decision) states that dues money cannot be spent on partisan elections, but keep lying and saying otherwise. The biggest “entrenched interests” in this country are not labor unions and American education is not suffering because teachers have collective bargaining RIGHTS. It is not that simple. The premise of your position is wrong and your party is losing ground every day. As for those DEMS who want to join the anti-union crowd, I say take a hot tub hunting trip with Rove and the VP, then join the other party. They would not be worthy of calling themselves Democrats.    

    1. According to Follow the Money, unions in Colorado contributed the following in the the 2006 STATE races

      Teachers Unions  $1.5M

      Public Employee Unions $500k

      Fire/Police Unions $202k

      Trade Unions  $726k

      Transporation Unions $101k

      In my opinion, they are buying politicians in Colorado and we are witnessing political payback in the form of HB 1072 and the last executive order.

      1. Why is not ok for labor to be part of the political process?   Why did you not mention that business groups generally give more money to Republicans?  Neither post called for public financing of campaigns and unless you support that I think your position is weak.  Many progressives, including myself support public financing of campaigns, but more and more conservatives are coming to this conclusion.  Former Senator Simpson, of Wyoming comes to mind.  If and until we have public financing, the connection between money and politics is a fact of life. Even if we had public financing, politicians are going to support certain groups more than others based on their beliefs.  Oil, insurance and drug companies give mostly to Republicans for example.  

        Anyway, I still stick by my claim that business outspends labor, but I concede that labor gives a lot of money through PACS, so what?  There is nothing wrong with a politician accepting money from a organization or cause that they believe in.  For that matter, there is nothing wrong with them accepting money from most any legitimate group as long as they are forthright about where they stand. Labor may be even more adamant with political activism than in the past because so many right wingers are determined to break labor for purely political reasons and 1072 is a good example. Joining a union is RIGHT, not privilege given to people by their boss.  1072 is a law that cripples the democratic principle of majority rule.  Why should employees have to take two votes to form a union shop with a super majority second vote?  I’ll tell you why, because business interests in this country and have unfairly stacked the deck in favor of the person signing the paycheck and the middle class and the poor are paying the price. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater.  Economic disparity is growing rapidly and job security is becoming a thing of the past.  The interests of labor unions represent the common interest of the country and bring about needed balance to this countries economic and social systems.  To me, the issue is a about much more than economics, it is about basic civil liberties like due process of law and equal justice. I do not expect you to agree, but trust you will understand that labor makes no apologies for defending ourselves.  We walk in a tradition of standing up for what is right and we will not demonized as anything less.        

        1. Maybe we’re talking past one another.

          Under Colorado law, it is ILLEGAL for a corporation or LLC to donate money to a candidate.  The same restrictions do not apply to small donor committees set up by unions.  Hence, when you look at contributions in Colorado, candidates get a lot of money from labor unions, but not from businesses.

          Here’s a link to FAQs about Colorado campaign financing laws:


          What we saw in Colorado was that candidates elected with union money from union small donor committees made union issues a priority even though a minority of workers  in Colorado are members of unions.

          Absent the distortion of union money, I would have expected things like education, water, energy, transportation to have been a priority in the current administration.  Instead, we’re getting a raft of pro-union actions rather than what most voters would think was important.

          The distortion of union money also means that when political office holders have to make policy decisions about education, they have to weigh and consider whether the teachers’ union — the largest of union contributors — objects to a proposed policy.  I believe that if push comes to shove, a policitican who was elected with teachers union money will first look after the interests of the teachers and, only then, look after our kids.

          1. Again, you seem only concerned about labor unions.  There is no greater impact on government than corporate influence under the umbrella of what is good for business.  

            Official lobbying groups, which unions are not should be considered. See attached links from open secrets.  The contention that labor has more influence than business is way off the mark.  The first link shows, “ranked sectors” , Lobbying Overview.  Labor is on the list, but way under corporate interests. It is not specific to Colorado, but the second one is. The third link, attached, also shows a break down of the top spending lobbyists.

            Also, your statement, “What we saw in Colorado was that candidates elected with union money from union small donor committees made union issues a priority even though a minority of workers in Colorado are members of unions”….makes an important point.  The percentage of union members would significantly increase if the attacks on labor were not so extreme. Labor unions set standards for all employees and always have, although many non-union members work “at will”, without job protections.

            I also maintain that the “interest of Teachers” generally coincides with the “interest of kids”. Just like the interests of labor generally coincide with the interests of business.  And again, as I mentioned earlier, as the attacks on labor increase, it is likely that our efforts to mobilize economical and with shoe leather will also increase, but my opinions are my own.

            I think public financing of campaigns will remain an important goal to address these type of concerns along with an understanding business should stop trying subordinate labor and look at employees and their representatives on equal level.  

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    2. posed by Another Skeptic is whether Democrats, when presented with a decision that affects our kids’ education, will side with their union campaign contributors.

      I suspect that if a decision is bad for teachers’ unions but good for education, it will not be implemented.  In politics, money talks irrespective of who writes the check.

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