Friday, July 26, 2019

SEIU’s Andy Stern Has a New Gig Fighting Teachers’ Unions

SEIU's Andy Stern

As teachers mount the biggest wave of strikes in recent US history, SEIU’s President Emeritus Andy Stern has jumped onto the side of anti-union forces backed by billionaires.

That’s the news from Hamilton Nolan, a Senior Writer at Splinter NewsEarlier this week, he published a piece detailing Stern’s latest move. (Hamilton Nolan, “High Profile Labor Leader Has a New Gig Fighting Against Teacher's Unions,” Splinter, July 23, 2019.)

What’s going on?

Earlier this year, Stern became an official advisor to a “front group” that’s pushing for the privatization of public schools and is driven by “virulently anti-union elements,” according to an article by Maurice Cunningham. (Maurice Cunningham, “Keri Rodrigues Goes Coastal with Plans for National Parents Union,” MassPoliticsProfs, April 22, 2019.)

The front group -- called the “National Parents Union” -- is funded by the right-wing billionaire family that owns Wal-Mart.

Here are some details from Nolan’s article:
The most prominent and powerful American labor actions of the past year were the teacher’s strikes that swept the nation, from West Virginia to California. Public school teachers have, more than anyone, been the most visible engine of recent union militancy. And as all of that was happening, here is what Andy Stern did: in April of this year, he was announced as an official adviser of the National Parents Union, an education reform group with deep ties to the Walton Foundation, the charitable arm of the family of Walmart heirs, the single richest family in America. (Charter schools are a major focus of the Walton Foundation; the NPU’s board members are affiliated with a variety of groups that have received significant Walton Foundation funding, and its co-leader is an executive at Green Dot Public Schools, a charter group funded in part by the Waltons.)
The National Parents Union—which, in the release containing the news of Stern’s appointment, said that it seeks to “define the education conversation in the 2020 election cycle,” using the language of “empowering families” to erode support for the public education system—is not an actual union. Quite the opposite. It is a classic astroturf-style vessel created for the purpose of giving a political campaign a sheen of grassroots respectability. Its advisers and “Founding Members” are a grab bag of prominent charter school advocates. Andy Stern’s name stands out—his listed title is not from an educational group, but rather, “President Emeritus, SEIU.”
Stern is lending his union-world credibility to a group that says this in its organizing document: “In the same manner that teacher strikes and mobilization are commanding headlines, we have a vision of having parent rallies and mobilizations in the spotlight, redirecting the conversation from one about adults to one about students. The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”
In other words, the former head of one of America’s most politically active unions is using his resume in organized labor to support a group that explicitly aims to undermine teacher’s unions—at a time when teacher’s unions have done more to revive militancy in organized labor than any other group. It is a testament to the contempt in which Andy Stern is already held by much of the labor movement that his involvement in the NPU, which was revealed three months ago, has not yet caused a louder uproar. (It is also a testament to the fact that there seems to be no evidence that the NPU has accomplished anything of note so far.) Stern did not respond to emails seeking comment on his role with the new group.

If you’re curious, here’s the NPU’s press release identifying Stern as SEIU’s President Emeritus and describing him as an “Adviser” to the Wal-Mart family-funded organization. On the second page, it states:
The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force. We envision the National Parents Union as being able to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights… We see a significant need for a national body that provides centralized technical assistance and encouragement and also harnesses the collective power of our efforts in important national fights where teachers unions have a monopoly on the conversation.

The press release criticizes teachers for opposing the NPU’s privatization agenda, which it calls “education reform.” And it describes NPU’s plan to organize an “aggressive earned media strategy” to broadcast the “NPU message” via national media outlets, targeting those states where teachers have mobilized for improved funding, limits on classroom sizes, investment in school facilities, and livable wages for teachers and school staff.

So what does SEIU President Mary Kay Henry say about this?

After all, SEIU represents tens of thousands of public school staff, including teachers’ aides, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, maintenance staff and others. And SEIU is trying to unionize instructors in higher education across the nation. 

Do SEIU’s top officials endorse Stern’s use of the union’s name to support an anti-union agenda backed by right-wing funding sources?

SEIU officials refused to comment, says Nolan. 

Without some sort of clarification, SEIU's silence appears to indicate its support for NPU’s agenda as well as Stern's use of SEIU's name to back the organization.

Nolan got a response from Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers.
“There must be some misunderstanding for a respected labor leader, who spent a good part of his life helping working people, to embrace a Walton-funded group dedicated to attacking them,” she told Splinter via a spokesman. “I urge Andy to take another look at what exactly he’s got himself into.”

Tasty’s reaction?

Andy Stern is a foul-smelling piece of fecal matter.

We should count our blessings that progressive forces in the US labor movement, including California healthcare workers led by Sal Rosselli and hotel workers at HERE, took on Stern’s pathetic sell-out ass more than a decade ago.