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February 17th, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | Rogue of the Week
 

OEA & AFT

Are The two teacher unions really interested in maximizing students’ educational opportunities?

     
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This week’s Rogues, the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, claim they want both efficient government and to maximize “education opportunities for Oregon students.”

Except when those goals collide with the unions’ self-interest.

OEA and AFT, which collectively represent more than 59,000 active or retired teachers in Oregon, spent more than $2.5 million in support of Measures 66 and 67. The teachers’ unions were the largest contributor on either side of the campaigns over the income-tax increases state voters approved Jan. 26. Making the donations is obviously within the unions’ free-speech rights; and, tax increases on corporations and the highest-income state residents generated cash in part to keep teachers working.

The mega-contributions aren’t surprising, given the unions’ size and the fact that they have supported previous efforts to make sure Oregon remains one of only a few states with unlimited campaign contributions.

But in a letter sent before the election on 66 and 67, the unions roguishly went too far. They tried to punish insurers supporting the “no” campaign, even though those insurers contributed only a small fraction of what teachers’ unions did—and are saving the state’s K-12 education system tens of millions.

Writing to the Oregon Educators Benefit Board on Jan. 11, teachers’ union presidents noted that Standard Insurance contributed $30,000 and Providence Health and Services $4,355 to the “no” side the Standard later gave another $10,000, while Providence discovered it had inadvertently contributed (as a nonprofit, it is precluded from giving to political action committees) and got its money back.

Lawmakers created the Oregon Educators’ Benefit Board in 2007 to pool the purchasing power of 198 school districts representing about 145,000 beneficiaries, replacing the previous practice of districts buying insurance on their own. The board says that change—which involves Providence and the Standard winning competitive bids to provide OEBB insurance—is saving $44 million this year. Ostensibly, those savings are helping to “maximize opportunities” for students in the classroom.

But in their Jan. 11 letter, OEA President Gail Rasmussen and AFT President David Rives urged the board to penalize the insurers. “We ask that the board take into consideration support for funding public education when the contracts for these companies are renewed,” the two wrote.

OEA spokeswoman BethAnne Darby says the letter was not intended to intimidate insurers.

“The insurers ore profitting off public employees,” Darby says. “The purpose of the letter was to bring clarity and help them think carefuly.”

But Standard government affairs director Justin Delaney says his employer “is deeply disappointed at some of the tactics employed in the campaign.” So are we.

 
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