Teachers’ Unions and Virginia Schools

Courtesy VEA

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia is a government union state.

Because of the federal workforce in Northern Virginia, Virginia in 2021 had the third highest percentage of any state of government union members as a share of total union members at 64%.

That is a higher percentage than Washington D.C.

Of all employees in Virginia, 22.5% worked for the government in 2021. Virginia is one of only seven states over 20%. D.C. is 29%.

The National Teachers’ Unions. Many Virginia teachers and support personnel belong to local teacher’s associations and unions that are affiliates of the two major national public school teacher’s unions, the National Education Association (NEA, 3 million members) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, 1.7 million members).

Together they represent one in four union members in the U.S. The leadership of both are hard-core progressives.

Those national numbers of members are provided by the two unions and include retirees. In 2021 together they had about 3.6 million working members.

In the years 2019-21, the National Center for Education Statistics counted three million teachers in public schools and 500,000 in private schools. But the NEA and AFT represent large numbers of other school staff to account for the apparent discrepancy.

The two unions are overtly political and focused on social issues warfare.

In Virginia, the two national unions claim 45,000 members, which, since they both include large numbers of non-teacher staff, means together they represent significantly less than half of Virginia teachers.

A Virginia option. Among the 91,000 public school teachers in Virginia, over 10,000 belong to the non-union, apolitical teacher association Virginia Professional Educators (VPE). That option offers professional assistance and legal protection to teachers without the partisan politics and social issues. It promises to

“honor your personal values and respect individuals’ rights to have differing political opinions.”

What a concept.

Regulatory capture. Then there is the matter of regulatory capture.

How many state boards of education and school boards have been and are dominated by slates of veteran teachers endorsed by unions?

In Virginia, in what used to be low-turnout school board elections, teachers union endorsement was tantamount to victory. No more.

The NEA and its Virginia Affiliates. The Virginia Education Association (VEA), long associated with the NEA, was for a very long time a non-political association like VPE.

Starting in roughly 2016, the NEA transformed itself into a radical social justice organization.

Among NEA racial and social warrior causes: BLM support, school-to-prison pipeline, remove police from schools, systemic racism, LGBTQ activism, protecting illegals, ethnic studies, even banning offensive mascots.

Hope I didn’t miss anything.

In this turmoil the VEA did not change horses. It remains an affiliate of the NEA. The VEA teachers page neglects to mention how many teacher members it has. But VEA includes Education Support Professionals (ESP) among its claim of 40,000 members. ESP include, by VEA definition:

  • Clerical Services
  • Custodial & Maintenance
  • Food Services
  • Health & Student Services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security Services
  • Skilled Trades
  • Technical Services
  • Transportation

For its part, the VEA has taken stands

  • opposing lab schools (an opinion I share);
  • opposing charter schools and vouchers;
  • opposing Gov. Youngkin’s “proposed guidelines (that) target and stigmatize LGBTQ+ students, threatening their safety and well-being in schools.” The link above is a VEA defamation. See if you can come up with “targeting and stigmatizing and threats to safety and well being” from the actual 2022 Model Policies on the Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools ;
  • VEA sponsors NEA’s model affirming resolutions that in turn require school boards to permit “participation in in all physical education, athletics, and other extracurricular activities according to their gender identity, without requiring legal or medical documentation.” The entire Resolution uses the word “parents” once — in referenced to communicating the resolution, not their children’s choices;
  • supporting LGBTQ+ curricula in schools; and
  • supporting collective bargaining.

So, those may be some of the reasons why, while the VEA has associations in every school division, considerably less than half of Virginia teachers are members.

The AFT and its Virginia affiliates. The American Federation of Teachers, whose President Randi Weingarten has been called “the most dangerous person in the world” by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has traditionally been the more radical of the two national unions.

Ms. Weingarten had the gall to post an article in The New York Times,In defense of public education,” when she is personally the biggest threat to its public support.

She famously campaigned hard in Virginia for Terry McAuliffe, by all accounts sealing his defeat.

From the AFT:

AFT Virginia represents over 5,000 members and school employees throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our locals include Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, Hampton Federation of Teachers, and Norfolk Federation of Teachers.

So, the AFT represents less than half as many members as VPE in Virginia, but is much noisier.

Mr. McAuliffe should have counted heads.

Virginia Transitions from Associations to Unions. Virginia Democrats in 2020 passed legislation permitting unions to negotiate contracts under local option.

That effectively converted VEA and AFT locals that were granted contract negotiating rights by their local governments from associations to unions.

Bottom line. I personally separate the unions’ efforts to raise wages and improve working conditions from their political agendas.

I wish they would.

Virginia must provide competitive pay and benefits to public school employees or we will never have enough or enough of the best. Virginia on average does not offer competitive pay and benefits, and we are not close.

It is noted that Democrats had full control in Richmond from 2020 — 22 and did not achieve that goal or even really propose it.

We must provide safe working conditions.

I intend to present soon an article with a recommendation for a Virginia constitutional amendment on teacher wages and a dedicated funding source combined with a provision on teacher accountability.

It will cause the heads of some of my conservative friends to explode on wages and funding and the left to scream about accountability standards.

But I unalterably oppose permission for public unions to negotiate wages and working conditions. It puts them, especially with their pervasive regulatory capture, on both sides of the bargaining table with the public unrepresented.

I also oppose teacher organizations taking public political positions of any sort.

Nothing could be more destructive of trust of half of Virginia no matter what positions they may take.