Pro-‘labor’ but anti-worker: NEA staffers’ strike threat is the latest example of union hypocrisy

Pro-‘labor’ but anti-worker: NEA staffers’ strike threat is the latest example of union hypocrisy

Pro-‘labor’ but anti-worker: NEA staffers’ strike threat is the latest example of union hypocrisy

The organized labor movement often demonizes businesses for being “anti-worker,” but in many cases, union leaders’ insistence that they exist to empower workers and combat unfair workplace practices might just be an attempt to distract from their ulterior motives.

As it turns out, there’s a reason some unions look an awful lot like the corporations that they allege exploit labor for profits—they do it themselves.

And in fact, they do it better. Because unlike business that fundamentally rely on and compensate the value of labor to generate a profit, union leaders’ power has long been predicated on one thing and one thing only: the ability to force workers to pay them a fee for the very privilege of holding a job.

The U.S Supreme Court put an end to this racket for all public employees with its 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, but in states without “right-to-work” protections, private-sector workers can still be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

Given that unions’ preferred business model relies on denying work to those who don’t want to pay them, it’s fair to call this “anti-worker” and conclude that in reality, union leaders are often far more interested in leveraging workers’ resources to amass their own financial and political power than they are in promoting the value of labor itself.

Such hypocrisy is perhaps never more evident than in the many cases of internal scandal, fraud and corruption for which unions have become known. It’s also evident in union leaders’ dealings with their own “staff unions,” such as the National Education Association Staff Organization (NEASO), which represents staff at the NEA’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The NEASO staged a walkout last week and has formally authorized a strike over what it claims are the NEA’s “anti-worker tactics” during the bargaining process. According to the NEASO:

“Despite publicly championing labor rights and portraying themselves as staunch advocates for workers, [the NEA’s] actions behind closed doors tell a very different story—one that is shameful and hypocritical, undermining the entire labor movement.”

Needless to say, the NEA seems to be striking—no pun intended—a very different tone with its own workforce than it does when taxpayers are on the hook.

It’s also evidently fostering an unsafe work environment for some of its employees. In conjunction with the walkout, the staff union filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that, according to reports, accuses NEA management of physically assaulting and retaliating against staff.

The NEA’s treatment of its own employees isn’t the first example of alleged “union-busting” by unions themselves, or of unions’ own toxic workplace cultures that contradict the values they claim to promote. And unfortunately, it likely won’t be the last.

Because for many at the helm of America’s most powerful unions, pro-labor movement doesn’t necessarily mean pro-worker.   

Research & Government Affairs Associate
Ben Straka serves as a Research and Government Affairs Associate for the Freedom Foundation, where his responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts aimed at supporting the organization’s mission through legislative advocacy and public policy expertise. His work has been published in various local news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest and the country, and he has appeared as a guest on radio programs such as The Lars Larson Show, among others. He has regularly testified before the Oregon State Legislature on matters of labor policy and government transparency, has advised local government leaders on labor relations, and has represented employees in administrative proceedings under the state’s collective bargaining laws. Ben first joined the Freedom Foundation in 2016, and holds additional professional experience in the fields of real estate development and construction. He is a native of Eugene, Ore. and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business. He lives in Oregon with his wife.