New York Teachers Union Spent Millions on Debt and Politics in 2021

Over $175 Million wasted at Teachers' and Students' Expense
Unsplash, Brittany Bendabout

Union watchdog Americans for Fair Treatment’s (AFFT) annual fiscal review of the New York State Unified Teachers’ (NYUST), who represent more than 600,000 of the state’s educators, revealed tens of millions of dollars spent on debt and lobbying activities.

The review found that the NYUST has $568 million in pension and retiree liabilities as a result of poor saving. Of all the money the NYUST spent in fiscal year 2020-2021, more than 25% was directed to paying off debt. The largest component, 42%, went towards resolving representational and collective bargaining disputes.

Despite these exorbitant costs, the union still paid its executives handsomely. Union president Andrew Pallotta received a 5% raise, earning a salary of $312,000. Moreover, the NYUST’s 430 employees received an average salary of $127,000. For reference, New York’s median household income was $71,000 for the 2016-2020 period, while the average teacher salary was slightly under $80,000 in 2017. 

In addition, the union reported $10 million in political spending over the period (though AFFT suspects “additional spending that also appears political.” The $10 million specifically devoted to politics included (but was not limited to) $3.3 million to union staff for political activity conducted during work; $2.8 million to local unions for use in school board and municipal elections; $1.1 million to Phenomenon Post LLC, a political advertising agency; and $250,000 to the Strong Economy for All Coalition, which advocates for higher taxes. 

“The Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision relieves nonmembers from the obligation to pay any dues or fees to the union as a condition of public employment,” an infographic of the review notes. “However, for teachers who remain NYSUT members, Janus changes nothing about how union dues are spent — they are still routinely used for political purposes.”

“It is hard to believe that NYSUT could be a good steward of its members’ dues when you look at these numbers,” said Brigette Herbst, the organizing director at AFFT. “Their pension liabilities are out of control and on top of that they spend millions on lobbying and electoral politics — it doesn’t leave much for actual representation,” she continued. 

The NYUST has been an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) since 2006. Over the time period of the report, the AFT was implicated in numerous scandals, including using school closures as a collective bargaining tool, blocking school reopening efforts, and, perhaps most infamously, labeling angry parents as domestic terrorists.

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

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