The past four years have been a struggle for unions. Even their traditional ally — the Democratic Party — has lately taken positions, especially in education reform, that puts them on a collision course with the majority of teachers unions. As the Democrats are slowly changing course away from lockstep with unions, it seems only logical that unions are doing the same. The New York Times reports that in this election cycle, some unions are disillusioned with candidates on the left and are throwing their money and support behind politicians of a different ideological persuasion.
Some of the beneficiaries of union largesse have been Republican candidates for the Illinois House. The donations were unlikely in light of the fact that one candidate is campaigning on a pledge to lower taxes and shrink the government, a position that has won him the support of the Tea Party.
William Seitz, a Republican state senator in Ohio who is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group, has received more money this year from the Ohio Education Association than from any other donor. Teachers’ organizations in Georgia and Texas have also donated to numerous Republicans.
It isn’t that unions are abandoning the Democratic Party, which still draws most union campaign donations, but around the country teachers groups have donated more than $1 million to Republican candidates for state offices. That adds up to about 8% of total union giving this election cycle — more than double that of two years ago for a Democrat to Republican donation ratio of about 11 to 1.
In some states, the increase has been steeper. In Ohio, the proportion of contributions to Republicans jumped to more than 21 percent this year from less than 1 percent in 2010. Similarly, in Illinois, where 16 percent of donations went to Republicans in 2010, the proportion has increased to 22 percent.
Some see it as an attempt by the unions to remind the Democratic Party bosses not to take their money and their organizing power for granted. Jim Reed, who is the director of government relations for the Illinois Education Association, said as much to The Times.
Mainly, however, those who are receiving union money get it because their agenda coincides with that of the teachers groups.
“Instead of reaching across the aisle to find support for increased funding for public education,” said Richard W. Hurd, a professor of labor studies at Cornell, “they are reaching across the aisle for people who are not sold on the idea that charter schools are good, or that testing should be used for all teacher evaluations, or that teachers should lose job security.”
Hurd’s explanation sounds pretty close to the one offered by the Ohio Education Association when its donations to Seitz were queried. In a statement, the union explained that they found that Seitz was open to listening to their views on collective bargaining protections for teachers.