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SHAPIRO: The Real Reason Schools Are Still Closed

Imagine if your police force could just go on strike at a moment’s notice. It could hold up the entire business of a city. Imagine if your firefighters decided to go on strike in the middle of a fire. Imagine if the military decided to go on strike in the middle of the war.

These are the kinds of dangers associated with public sector unions, and it is a massive disruption to the American economy.

So over the past couple of months, we found out one specific and important thing about the Biden administration’s approach to COVID policy in America’s schools: The Biden administration doesn’t care about the kids. The Biden administration cares about the teachers unions.

One of the most robust scientific findings from the past year has been that schools do not provide additional risk above baselines to teachers. This is particularly true with regard to elementary schools, where the risks of transmission to teachers are very low. In fact, in the United States, there has yet to be — so far as I’m aware — a single documented case of a teacher infected by an elementary school student and then dying of COVID.

So why exactly are we still talking about schools remaining closed? The CDC standards would require that the vast majority of students be at home right now, either via hybrid learning model or at home completely. There’s a reason for that: the head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, specifically came out and said that she had shaped her criteria around the request of teachers unions.

The story of unionization in American labor is quite a fascinating one.

In the aftermath of World War II, there were a lot of private sector unions; a lot of employees were unionized but, as America began to break out economically, fewer and fewer employees wanted to be bound by the dictates of private sector unions. Private sector unionization began declining at an extraordinarily rapid clip.

At the exact same time, public sector unions began to rise. And this was given the go-ahead by an executive order signed by JFK in 1962, which allowed public sector unions to be formed.

Effectively, public sector unions are bargaining against taxpayers. And the people who represent the taxpayers in many cases are not actually representing the taxpayers; they’re representing precisely the people who got them elected in the first place — namely, the public sector unions.

Imagine, for example, if you could elect your own boss and then negotiate with him your salary, and he would just get to spend whatever money is in the kitty. Because he doesn’t own that money; because he ain’t the owner.

There is a reason that the Wagner Act suggested that public sector employees not be allowed to collectively bargain. Even FDR agreed with that. One of the things FDR specifically didn’t like was the idea that public sector employees would be able to strike.

Up until very recently, unions had really the run of American law. Unions were able to simply force, in many states, people who did not want to be part of the union to pay agency fees.

So let’s say that you wanted to work as a teacher in California, but you didn’t actually want to join the union. Well, because the union was collectively bargaining on your behalf already — it had been established as the exclusive representative of all teachers in the state of California — you still had to pay agency fees to a union you didn’t even like.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck that down. They said you could not be forced to pay agency fees to a union that you didn’t actually want to join. This was supposed to provide a sort of crisis moment for unions because essentially, Janus argued that all states should become right to work states.

Right to work states are states wherein you do not have to pay agency fees even if there is a union in your particular sector. In fact, if you’re not a member of a union, you still get to work in that sector without being a member of the union.

There’s a reason that many businesses have moved from what are called “union shop states” to right to work states. The cost of labor in union shop states is extraordinarily high and employers don’t want to be bound by all of the restrictions.

What does all this mean? It means that public sector unions particularly require — require — politicians to cram down their interests, because the vast majority of employees in any given sector would prefer to be treated as individuals rather than being forced into collective bargaining circumstances where they could be lowest man on the totem pole.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, which was passed during the FDR administration, employees are allowed to collectively bargain with employers. In fact, employers are duty bound to bargain with employees if those employees can show that they represent a majority of the employees at a particular company.

This can happen in one of two ways. First, you can have an actual election where there is a union that is approved by a majority of the employees. Second, you can have a union present signatures of a majority of people who are employees of a particular company.

Now, the problem with the second way of creating a union is that obviously pressure can be exerted. If I can come up to you in the parking lot at 12:00 at night and say, “You know what would be great, Bob, is if you would sign this little card to join the union. And if you don’t sign the card, well, I can’t promise that your car is going to work tonight.”

There’s a reason that unions have openly promoted the idea that there should not be any such thing as secret ballot with regard to union elections. They’re deeply afraid that if given the ability to vote against forming a union, too many employees will vote not to form the union in the first place.

It should be recognized that the National Labor Relations Act is actually a horrible piece of legislation. It is the law; we abide by it here at Daily Wire. It happens to be a crappy piece of legislation. That is because it allows collusion by labor in a way you would never allow collusion by the employer.

If Daily Wire got together with Daily Caller, got together with Breitbart, and we all decided what pay scale to use for our employees, this would be collusion. It would be monopolistic behavior. But if all the employees of those companies got together and created a guild, then we would be duty bound to negotiate with them as a collective instead of approaching them as individuals. This creates a non-fluid labor market.

At least you can make the case that banding together as laborers to negotiate with your employer makes some sense if you’re afraid that your employer is going to treat you adversarially, but it makes no sense with regard to public sector unions. Remember, if you’re an employee of a private company, you get to negotiate with your employer how much you get paid.

But if you are an employee of the public sector, it is the legislature that is setting the pay scale. Usually it is elected officials who are deciding how much you ought to be paid. There ought to be no bargaining between employers and employees when all of the pay scale is set by the legislature.

The great irony of teachers unions — and public sector unions generally — is that the biggest advocates for these unions are the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party happens to be the same party that is routinely suggesting that money in politics is dangerous and bad. This is why they push campaign finance reform.

As Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said:

The very real danger now is that special interests will be able to use vast sums of concentrated wealth to further dictate policy outcomes at odds with the American people’s wishes.

The idea is that if you or if I give too much money to a candidate, we have bought the candidate. Or, if a corporation supports a particular candidate, that candidate is now in the pocket of the corporation.

Yet some of the biggest spenders in American politics are the members of big labor.

Labor unions — both private and public sector, mostly public sector at this point — spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars ensuring that Democrats get elected. You have public sector unions actively working to take union dues, spend them to elect politicians, then negotiating with those politicians to take taxpayer dollars and pay the unions. It is utter insanity.

It’s incredibly corrupt, and it’s right out there in the open.

In 2020, according to, public sector unions spent $68 million directly to impact the election; 89% of all of those dollars were spent on Democrats. This did not include unions spending money internally on politics to get their own membership out. There are about 3 million members of the teachers unions, for example.

In 2018, according to one study, unions have spent $2 billion on politics and nearly all of it on Democrat-related causes. In 2020, the National Education Association spent some $26 million on politics, nearly all of it went to Democrats. The American Federation of Teachers spent $17 million directly, nearly all of it went to Democrats.

According to The Washington Post, both the AFC and the NEA spent hundreds of thousands of man hours in order to help Democratic candidates. According to Fox News, Joe Biden received more money from the teachers unions than any other candidate in the 2020 election cycle, which of course is not a shock.

So, public sector unions spend tremendous amounts of money to elect people they then bargain with to use taxpayer dollars to pay them off, so they can spend that money to elect those politicians again, and again, and again. And the cycle just keeps going round, and round, and round.

There’s a reason that Joe Biden knows that the science says schools should open, and yet he is reticent to let them open. The answer is he’s in the pocket of the teachers unions, because Democrats typically are in the pockets of the public sector unions.

Right now, teachers unions are specifically bargaining to not open schools under virtually any circumstances. The Chicago Teachers Union was asking so much that even Lori Lightfoot — who is in the pocket of the Chicago Teachers Union — was saying that this is way too much.

According to Lightfoot, “these schools are open and safe and we are ready to welcome our students back. And frankly, they’ve been ready for some time.”

Teachers unions have been requesting full vaccination — not only for all teachers, but for students. The CDC does not even recommend vaccinations for young children.

Teachers unions have been saying that without proper ventilation, or more masking, or without social distancing they can’t reopen. The science does not agree with this.

So what do the teachers unions care about? Well, they care about the same thing all other unions care about: getting the best benefits for their employees. The problem is that teachers unions are negotiating against students, because typically what they are negotiating is more money from taxpayers, less working hours, better working conditions.

Some of those things are perfectly plausible. But you know where you’re supposed to address those sorts of issues typically? At the legislative level. You’re supposed to allow taxpayers to defend themselves. Instead, what public sector unions do is they end around the process.

Unionization in America has a long and interesting history. Private sector unions did a lot of good in the early 20th century particularly, but public sector unions have always been a blight on the republic.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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