Nina Esposito-Visgitis (center) at a 2012 Labor Day rally.

Here at Free to Teach, a project of the organization Americans for Fair Treatment, our goal is to provide teachers with up-to-date information, resources, and support when their union kicks them to the curb.

We speak up when unions’ power politics make teachers’ lives more difficult. It’s our job to report on their unfair workplace practices and unbalanced political influence.

But every once in a while, the union does our job for us!

Take a look at this letter to the editor that Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Nina Esposito-Visgitis had published in the Post-Gazette Aug. 28. In her opening paragraphs, Esposito-Visgitis lists several ways that her union hounds members and nonmembers with calls, texts, emails, door knocking, and social media.

She’s boasting about how many ways she’s been spamming teachers. Thanks, Nina.

Then, just after loudly proclaiming this litany of her union’s political activity, she attacks Keith Williams of Americans for Fair Treatment as a “paid mouthpiece” for pointing out that unions operate a multimillion-dollar political machine. Meanwhile, Esposito-Visgitis’ own pay as a union mouthpiece comes right out of taxpayers’ pockets: for years, she has been a ghost teacher, an educator who does union business during the school day in place of, you know, actually teaching. In 2016-17, for Nina, that was some $70,000 in salary and accrued seniority and pension benefits for not serving students. 

Even though the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers has an arrangement to reimburse the school district for ghost teachers’ salary and health benefits, these non-educating educators still accrue pension benefits and seniority. So taxpayers pay for teachers who aren’t teaching when there are classroom vacancies. And younger teachers who have faithfully taught but don’t have as much seniority as Nina would be let go first in the event of district lay offs—even though Nina hasn’t taught in some 15 years.

How’s that for unions being pro-teacher?

Nina’s letter further insists that the Supreme Court’s Janus decision hasn’t changed anything about unions’ political operations. In one sense, she’s right―unions are still just as invested in their partisan politics. Immediately after the decision, the leaders of PFT and its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), held a massive convention in Pittsburgh that featured speakers from only one side of the aisle. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren gave pep talks to union leaders, while hundreds of other politicians curried favor with union lobbyists.

To the outside observer, this is exactly why we needed Janus. Unions don’t give members a voice in all this political activity, but they sure make them pay for it.

And by the way: despite Nina’s claims, Janus changed a lot for the lives of teachers and other government employees across this nation. Workers whose opinion had been silenced were suddenly handed a microphone. For the first time in decades, those who wanted to resign could no longer be trapped paying fees for politics they disagreed with.

I really hope union executives like Esposito-Visgitis keep doing our job for us—it’s about time they started representing the genuine diversity of teachers’ views.

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