Cracks Form in DNC-Union Relationship

Teachers unions, some of the most reliable and generous supporters of Democrat politicians, are fighting against what some are seeing as their waning influence. The conflict between the unions and the Democratic party operatives came to a head recently when the President Obama’s re-election campaign hired Linda Serrato as its new spokeswoman. Serrato ran afoul of the unions because of her last job, working for Ben Austin’s Parent Revolution, a group that’s fighting to bring “parent trigger” laws to the states.

“Parent trigger” laws allow parents of students in failing schools to force a complete overhaul including the firing of all administrative and teaching staff. This creates a conflict with teachers unions who have, in the past several years, expanded significant resources in fighting those kinds of laws. When Serrato’s appointment became public, Jeffrey Freitas, the secretary of the California Federation of Teachers fired off an email to the Obama campaign expressing his dissatisfaction with the hire, saying that it would damage the relationship between the campaign and the unions.

Serrato isn’t the only bone of contention in that relationship. Lately, some of the DNC’s wealthiest donors have also aligned themselves with organizations that are looking to apply capitalist principles to the education system.

Wealthy Democrats, including Los Angeles home developer Eli Broad and New York investment fund managers Whitney Tilson and John Petry, have found common cause with Republicans in a push to apply principles of the corporate world, including free-market competition, to public education. With teachers unions bitterly opposed to such measures, Democrats in the movement say they must break their party’s ties to the unions if they’re ever to make progress.

So they are offering an alternative to the union dollars, spending freely to back fellow Democrats willing to buck the unions and advance their agenda

Still, it’s unlikely that the DNC could sever ties with the unions completely, even if they can make up the financial shortfall by other means. The unions also contribute well-organized and motivated foot soldiers to power the campaign’s phone banks, flier distribution and the get-out-the-vote efforts. The unions local to one state often coordinate their efforts with unions in other states, such as when safe-Democratic California teachers unions deploys their organization in swing states where the outcome is both less certain and more crucial. In the election season where a lot depends on voter enthusiasm, alienating such large number of boosters could create serious problems closer to November.

Meanwhile, the union’s attempt to oust [Serrato] was reported by a Los Angeles Times columnist this week, sparking outrage among the emerging faction of Democrats who see teachers unions as obstructionist bullies rather than essential allies.