GOP attacks teachers unions while claiming concern for union jobs


Republicans remain outraged that teachers want to reopen schools safely during a pandemic.

Just weeks ago, congressional Republicans decried the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline as taking away "union jobs." Now they are opposing billions in pandemic relief funds for schools because they don't like teachers unions.

House Republicans are attacking Democrats over the fact that many schools are not fully operating in-person due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Rather than back President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan, which would provide funds for schools to more safely reopen, they are claiming Democrats and educators are conspiring to avoid an immediate return.

According to Roll Call, the National Republican Congressional Committee has been leading this attack. On Tuesday, they falsely blamed Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) for the situation.

"Abigail Spanberger, the #1 recipient of teachers union cash, is refusing to follow the science and reopen schools just to please her special interest donors,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Frustrated parents across Virginia’s 7th Congressional District won’t forget Spanberger put campaign donations before their children's well-being and will vote her out in 2022.”

Local school boards, not members of Congress, determine whether schools reopen and, in reality, many schools in her district are already partially doing so.

At a hearing Monday on the relief bill, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri — the top Republican on the panel — opposed the plan, suggesting that because only a fraction of the school funds will actually be spent this fiscal year, that must mean schools will not open this year. "This is the wrong plan at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons," he claimed.

But this has been a steady line of attack for congressional Republicans, who have suggested public schools should be defunded if they do not immediately return to fully in-person learning — even in areas with significant coronavirus spread — and pretended there are no safety risks to doing so.

"National teachers' union (not teachers) are saying they won't go back to work until 2022. We should not send a single taxpayer dollar in Covid funds to schools that aren't going to reopen," tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Jan. 27.

"The science is unequivocally clear: Schools are safe to reopen," said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) on Feb. 15. "But instead of following the science, the Biden administration is caving to teachers' unions. This is irresponsible & unacceptable. #ReopenSchools."

These attacks on teachers and organized labor are not unusual for the GOP, which even smears teachers' unions in its party platform.

But they come at a time when the party is trying to frame itself as pro-labor.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed Feb. 8 that "the uniqueness" of the GOP "today is we're the workers party, we're the American workers' party."

And in January, after Biden canceled the permit for the risky Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise objected that the move "will destroy union jobs and undermine America’s energy security."

Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) agreed, saying the decision destroyed "8,000 union jobs." In reality, the project's construction would require a substantial number of temporary employees, but the State Department has estimated it would create just 35 permanent jobs.

Days later, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) said that Biden's move "is killing energy jobs, including good paying union jobs."

Polling indicates that the GOP's attacks on the pandemic relief bill and teachers are not working.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll last week found 55% of Americans do not want to reopen schools until teachers are vaccinated against the coronavirus, compared to just 34% preferring an immediate return. The same poll showed that 54% of voters trust local teachers unions to decide whether it is safe to reopen in the fall.

A Navigator Research poll last week found that 73% of Americans back Biden's $1.9 trillion relief proposal — including 53% of Republican voters.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.