Gordian Knots & Godfathers

The Godfather Logo

When the Janus Decision came out we knew that the unions would pull out all the stops to keep from losing members.  This is very much true.  In Tennessee, the National Education Association (NEA) affiliate is one of their least profitable and losing members the quickest according to this 2016 article.   The latest tally may even bode graver for the union affiliate.  In Tennessee, the union affiliate has lost a self-reported 34.3% of their active members.

The NEA employs more than 500 people at its Washington, D.C., headquarters; the average salary is $123,613 plus benefits.  All told, NEA’s payroll for 2016 was just over $68.6 million for 555 employees — an average of $123,613 per worker.  By comparison, the average 2016 teacher salary of $58,353.  Tennessee teachers earn much less than their national counterparts.  It is unknown what teacher union bosses earn here in Tennessee, or how lucrative are their benefits.

Mike Antonucci, the foremost expert on teacher unions in the United States wrote a detailed article The National Education Association — a $1.6 Billion Enterprise With a Red-Ink Problem.   Antonucci wrote: “NEA and its affiliates are cumulatively in what accountants call balance-sheet insolvency. In consumer terms, it’s as if your mortgage and credit card debts are larger than your net worth, but you can still make your monthly payments because you haven’t lost your job.”  Whether or not that is the case in Tennessee is not known.

Recently, two candidates for Governor, Beth Harwell and Craig Fitzhugh were endorsed by the National Education Association affiliate in their parties primary.  Both lost decisively at the bottom of their primary.  In fact, the union squandered significant dollars in losing efforts across the state.  This is very problematic for all teachers who get painted with the liberal brush of union politics across the state.   The candidates who won will likely not look favorable upon public education after being targeted by the teacher union.  And it makes our jobs even more difficult.

The Tennessee Star correctly pointed out at the time of the Harwell endorsement: “high opposition to TEA money and influence among likely GOP primary voters, Republican candidates who have accept financial support and endorsements from TEA can certainly expect their opponents to use that information in campaign attack ads — if they are considered to be competitive.”  Republicans like Barry Doss and Tim Wirgu who took the teacher union money lost, and Gary Hicks narrowly won.  State Senator, Ken Yager, received $5,000 to his political action committee, Keypac.

However, political donations only tell part of the story.  In Tennessee, high priced strategists and companies also were paid significant dollars from the union PAC:  Counterpoint Messaging, Spry Strategies, Direct Mail Services, DirectFX, Graphic Creations were among them.  The Heartland Accountability Project in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa received $44,000.  Heartland targeted Senator Brian Kelsey, Senator Todd Gardenhire and Senator Reginald Tate in the past.  Heartland Accountability Project is listed as a client of Evolution Strategies, along with the National Education Association and Phil Bredesen.  It is an interesting circle.  Follow the money.  Then draw your own conclusions.

Teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics. Their goal is not improved public education, but rather power, money, and influence.  Leo Doran a reporter for InsideSources wrote in How Liberal Politics and Teachers’ Unions Got So Entangled: “Experts long active in the upper echelons of education research and policy-making say that the politicization of the teachers’ unions has gotten more intense in recent years.”  Doran then adds about the teacher unions that the structure of the unions “make their lobbying platforms susceptible to mission creep. The end result, however, is a Gordian knot of politics and labor battles that have ensconced the teachers’ unions…”

For groups like Professional Educators of Tennessee, it is simple.  We must advance public education without the divisive tribalism of partisan politics, and we will only get involved in education related issues.  The union never stops in its quest for power and control over public education.  We must keep that from happening.  In the movie, The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone lets someone know that the man is now in the Godfather’s debt.  He tells the man, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”  If a candidate for political office takes political donations from the union, assume they are bought and paid for.  The question is:  when will the politician have to pay the debt?


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.