Leatherwood: Union influence clear in education politics

According to the Department of Labor's website: "Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers." However, to many Americans, Labor Day is simply the unofficial end to the summer season.

In the past week, Labor Day has become the focus of a fight between Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the state teacher's union. According to Hogan's freshly signed executive order, Labor Day is the line in the sand. Ocean City sand to be exact. Starting next school year, students will remain on summer vacation until after Labor Day. Hogan, a Republican, is not alone in his desire to see schools opening after Labor Day. Democrats Comptroller Peter Franchot and Eastern Shore Sen. James Mathias have long proponed this idea.


Goucher College conducted polls in 2014 and 2015 with results indicating more than 70 percent of Marylanders support postponing school openings until after Labor Day. In 2013, then-Gov. Martin O'Malley convened a nonpartisan task force of stakeholders to consider opening schools after Labor Day. The committee voted in favor of recommending the later school start, 12-3.

This support meant nothing when the General Assembly considered a bill designed to accomplish this change. The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) opposed it and the bill was killed. A substantial majority of citizens favor the later start. A task force assembled to look at the impact of starting later votes overwhelmingly in favor of the concept. The opposition is singular but powerful. The MSEA's political influence shuts down the conversation.

I have no strong feelings about this issue one way or another. I am old enough that I am from the "school started after Labor Day" era, but a lot of things were different "back in my day." From what I have heard and read, a majority of Marylanders have indicated a support for the Hogan/Franchot plan, but until the governor signed the executive order, any plans to honor the will of the people was thwarted by the MSEA.

Historically, unions were simple organizations of workers that represented the interests of the employees in negotiations with the business regarding wages, safety, benefits and other work-related issues. Modern unions are now major players in political campaigns. (For what it's worth, Google auto-filled "in politics" when I began by typing "union influence.")

I do believe in freedom of speech. The unions have a right to pursue what they believe is in the best interest of their constituents. I just want to make sure that everyone is clear on the fact that the MSEA's commitment is to it decides is best for its employees.

Like its counterparts at the state level, the Carroll County Education Association is actively involved in wielding political influence. The CCEA has clearly stated objectives on its website. Included twice — listed as items 6 and 7 under its "Core Values" — is the following statement. "Continue to enhance our relationship and partnership with the BOE and Central Office for CCEA inclusion on CCPS decision-making committees and task forces." Item 13 reads, "Provide data in support of political candidates for local and state offices in our endorsement process."

You will certainly be hearing about the Board of Education candidates that are being supported by the local union. The CCEA has pledged $5,000 each to the campaigns of the two candidates it has endorsed. (For a local election, $5,000 is a lot of money!) The hand-picked candidates of the union are determined to be in the best interest of the union leadership.

At the budget hearing last spring, the teachers and union representatives asked the Board of County Commissioners to "fully fund" education, so that teacher salaries could be increased. The commissioners finalized their budget with the Board of Education getting its requested amount. This did not, however, mean the teachers got significant raises. Ultimately 4 percent to 8 percent raises were given to administrators while 2 percent to 8 percent was negotiated for the teachers. To me, this seemed like a "bait and switch" tactic. We were told the highest priority was teacher salaries, but when the ink dried on the union contracts, the biggest increases went to the administrators.

The school board members determine the budget for CCPS. The Board of Education makes decisions regarding the direction, priorities and objectives for CCPS. When the CCEA invests in its candidates, it is expecting results.

Just like the Google search engine predicted … there is union influence in politics.

Karen Leatherwood writes from Eldersburg. Reach her atleatherwoodkarenm@gmail.com.