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NEA targets Wal-Mart

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Feb 14, 2005
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Southern SD

Why target Wal-Mart?
By Michael Reitz | August 16, 2005

ON AUG. 10, the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, participated in a nationwide back-to-school boycott of Wal-Mart. The ''Send Wal-Mart Back to School" campaign urges parents and teachers to pledge not to shop for school supplies at the bargain retailer.
Why would the NEA, an organization whose stated mission is to ''promote the cause of quality public education and advance the profession of education," care about where parents buy pencils and backpacks?

The union says Wal-Mart employees are forced to seek government-subsidized health care benefits, which drains billions from public money that could be used to fund public education.

The boycott is little more than a union solidarity move, coming at a time when Big Labor's numbers are plummeting and the movement is experiencing the shockwaves of the rift within the AFL-CIO.

Fifty years ago, one in three workers belonged to a union. Today, only 12 percent of the American workforce is unionized. Unions are so desperate for members they are attempting to organize unique sectors of the workforce such as babysitters and Ivy League student teaching assistants.

Not only are organized labor's numbers dropping, but a poll recently conducted by Zogby International and the Public Service Research Foundation shows that efforts to organize new sectors of workers will be an uphill battle. Of those surveyed, 56 percent of nonunion workers said they would vote against bringing a union into their workplace.

As the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart is an attractive target, but unions have been unsuccessful in organizing the company's employees. One of the unions unsuccessfully attempting to organize Wal-Mart, the United Food and Commercial Workers, decided to initiate an anti-Wal-Mart campaign.

At the NEA's annual gathering in July, the governing body approved a resolution to join UFCW's anti-Wal-Mart campaign. The back-to-school boycott kicked off in over 30 cities around the country.

The NEA is free to boycott Wal-Mart if it disagrees with the company's political orientation, but let's be clear: The boycott does nothing to improve education. The union is shamelessly using schools and children to generate public sympathy in a labor disagreement.

One can almost imagine the thought process: ''The average citizen may not sympathize with the plight of checkout clerks or grocery stockers . . . so let's get the teachers union to say Wal-Mart hurts kids!"

The ultimate irony of the NEA's boycott against Wal-Mart is that the union is asking parents to exercise a choice in their back-to-school shopping. Choice, however, is the one thing the union opposes most when it comes to education policy and the teaching profession.

The teachers union aggressively opposes measures and policies that give parents more choices in the education marketplace, such as school vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools, and home education.

The NEA even criticizes the Walton family, the founders of Wal-Mart, for contributing to ''anti-public education efforts like private school voucher initiatives and anti-public educations PACs."

Similarly, although the NEA represents 2.7 million education professionals, most teachers have no choice about affiliating with the union.

Instead, they are forced to pay union dues because of Draconian labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. The union then uses the dues teachers are forced to pay to fund a radical political and social agenda with little regard for teachers' chosen political affiliations.

Asking parents and teachers to boycott a retailer does nothing to advance the NEA's stated mission. Rather, it is a convenient means of political payback. Once again, the National Education Association has demonstrated that it is more interested in entrenching organized labor's power than in promoting the quality of education.

Michael Reitz is the director of the Labor Policy Center for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a nonpartisan, public policy research organization based in Olympia, Wash.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

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