Minneapolis among targets of new anti-union campaignby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
A group called the Center for Union Facts plans to pay the nation's ten worst teachers to quit their jobs. It's part of a campaign against about two dozen school districts nationwide, including Minneapolis.
St. Paul, Minn. — Group spokeswoman Sarah Longwell argues thatteachers' unions block education reform in the name of job protection, and that it's all but impossible to fire bad teachers.
"If you're a car manufacturer and you're turning out cars that don't run right, they'd go back on the line and say 'Who's putting these things together wrong?' and they'd fire that person," said Longwell in an interview. "That doesn't happen in school systems because the unions protect incompetent teachers."
The group is asking for nominations so it can offer $10,000 each to the ten worst teachers to try to get them to quit. Ads in Tuesday's USA Today and New York Times ask for the nominations.
Longwell said Minneapolis public schools fired only nine teachers of more than 3,500 in the past five years. It says 73 resigned or retired instead of being fired.
But Robert Panning-Miller, president of the Minneapolis teachers' union, said that's a skewed way of looking at the data.
"It's a little odd that they want a lot more teachers fired to show that bad teachers are being let go," Panning-Miller said. "We would hope those bad teachers are weeded out in the probationary period."
Panning-Miller said Minneapolis schools have a process for dealing with under-performing teachers. He also said it's a myth that tenure guarantees a job for life, adding that it only guarantees due process if an issue comes up.
The group showcases data from 22 districts across the country, but being one of the 22 only means that the district replied to the Center's request for information.
The Center for Union Facts has also targeted unions representing service-industry workers and grocery employees in the past.
The Washington-based nonprofit group is spending $1 million on the newspaper ads, along with a billboard in New York's Times Square. It launched a Web site with data it says it's collected from public records requests documenting what it considers to be the extreme lengths unions go to protect bad teachers.
The head of the nation's second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, called the Center for Union Facts' executive director, Rick Berman, an "ethically challenged attack dog" and "a shameless lobbyist who has shilled for pesticide, alcohol and tobacco companies."
"Berman has a record of using hidden funders to attack groups that contribute a great deal to society," said Edward McElroy, president of the federation. "Now he is coming after teachers at a time when most Americans support education and want to make improving education a top national priority."
The center's targets spread from Boston to Alaska. In Boston, for example, the group alleges the teachers union has embraced policies that insulate nearly all teachers from firing after they work for three years and gain tenure.
The group said only 25 Boston teachers out of more than 3,600 with tenure were fired during a five-year period ending last summer - less than two-tenths of 1 percent of tenured teachers annually. In other cases, 34 Boston teachers signed settlements agreeing to leave their jobs, the group said.
Berman, a former labor lawyer who has represented auto and steel workers, declined to offer specifics on his group's supporters, although he said the group has spent about $6 million since its founding in February 2006. He said the group opposes union corruption and intimidation, rather that opposing unions in general.
The group has also run media campaigns against some of the nation's biggest unions: the Service Workers International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, representing apparel and hospitality workers.
Asked to name key supporters, Berman said: "When you're revealing some of the dark side of labor unions, not lots of people want to have their names listed as supporters. We allow people funding us to announce their support on their own if they wish."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)