Union Report: From Freeloaders, Robber Barons and ‘Acts of Terror’ to Jesus, Politics and the ‘Jail Community,’ the Decade’s Top Education Quotes

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

Since 1997, I have been collecting memorable quotes on the topics of public education and teachers unions. Each year, I compile the best of them for a list and at the end of each decade gather the best of those for an inventory of education-focused words that really withstand the test of time.

I have resisted the temptation to choose one as Quote of the Decade, primarily because the No. 1 quote of the first decade of the 2000s — an unmatched combination of hyperbole, metaphor and faulty history — would be hard to top. Instead, here is a sampling of my favorites from each of the past 10 years. Enjoy!


“When you’re hired as a teacher, you should be teaching.” —New Jersey Superior Court Judge Jose Fuentes, hearing a challenge to the practice of releasing employees from their normal duties at full pay so they can conduct union business. (Jersey Journal, March 27)

“When you write pieces that are critical, the stakeholders come back at you and tell you that you did it wrong. I felt like there was a team of people working to discredit my most critical articles.” —Ben Chapman, former education reporter for the New York Daily News. (The Grade, June 12)


“We won’t get far by labeling people freeloaders.” —John Stocks, National Education Association executive director, speaking to the union’s Representative Assembly, July 2.

“[The Republican Party’s] promotion of divisive issues threatens to return this country to a time of legal segregation, back-alley abortions and the robber barons of the 19th century.” —Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which apparently has no Republican members. (California Teacher, September-October issue)


“I would expect [the United Federation of Teachers’ ruling Unity Caucus] would say anyone signing or spreading a petition to make a separate bargaining unit was Hitler, Mussolini, the devil and maybe Stalin all rolled into one.” —James Eterno, UFT chapter leader, curbing any enthusiasm for the idea of splitting off a high school teachers union from UFT. (ICEUFT Blog, Oct. 5)

“As secretary of education, would you carry your intent to destroy Detroit Public Schools to all public schools?” —American Federation of Teachers question during Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing, Jan. 17.


“I think we actually kind of did.” —Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association president, after saying her union could have written the education language in the Democratic Party platform. (Education Week, July 28)

“The gravy train was running, and they didn’t see the curve.” —Dave Weiland, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, school district teacher and local union leader, on the teachers union’s failure to prepare for a state law severely limiting public-sector collective bargaining and ending agency fees. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Nov. 27)

“His life has been in service, and he is continuing to be a teacher, a leader, a peacemaker, helping his community — even though it’s now the jail community.” —Benedict Kuehne, attorney for former Broward Teachers Union president Pat Santeramo, seeking to have his client’s fraud sentence reduced. The judge instead increased his term from five to 6½ years. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 9)

“[Illinois Gov.] Bruce Rauner is a liar. You know, I’ve been reading in the news lately about all of these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place — has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.” —Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, remarks to the City Club of Chicago, April 20.


“It’s kind of like an infestation of rodents or termites in your house. It’s amazing to me. Like a cult. I would say it’s like a cult.” —Rick Smith, radio talk show host, on Teach for America. (The Rick Smith Show, Oct. 12)

“That’s like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation.” —Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, reacting to news that Atlanta was named one of the most school-choice-friendly cities in the nation. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dec. 9)


“Her battles with the former teachers union president, Randi Weingarten, called to mind Mothra and Godzilla.” — Columnist Michael Powell, on Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. (The New York Times, March 12)

“Unions are disingenuous when they claim to represent the interests of the students. That’s not what they were created to do and is not what they are paid by their members to do.” —Harrison Blackmond, Michigan state director of Democrats for Education Reform and former UniServ director and staff attorney for the Michigan Education Association. (DFER blog, June 25)

“Who cares? Who cares?” —Diane Ravitch, reacting to findings of a Stanford University CREDO study showing academic gains for charter school students in Los Angeles. (Salon.com, March 12)


“As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of CTA, we must remember that we were founded for one reason … and one reason only … and that was to engage in politics.” —Carolyn Doggett, California Teachers Association executive director, in a Jan. 27 speech to the union’s State Council.

“It would be akin to making you and your wife redo your marriage license every year.” —John Havlicek, president of the La Crosse Education Association, describing Wisconsin’s annual recertification requirement for teachers unions. (La Crosse Tribune, Nov. 27)

“Since a teacher’s working conditions are a child’s learning conditions, attacking teachers is the same as attacking children.” —Randy Mousley, president of United Teachers of Wichita. (Wichita Eagle, Feb. 9)


“I find you and your organization wholly ineffectual and ineffective. Teachers cannot sit idly by facing financial ruin while you enjoy your wine and chocolates.” —Eric Przykuta, president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association, in a Feb. 17 letter to New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi.

“We had a very aggressive savings plan.” —Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, Florida, telling judge how she and her husband, former Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo — who was indicted for racketeering and money laundering — were able to put away more than a half-million dollars in CDs while paying off a $574,000 vacation home in just three years. (Miami Herald, July 13)


“Even Jesus needed an executive session with his disciples.” —Bruce Cole of the Colorado Springs Education Association, on why the union didn’t want contract negotiations conducted in public. (Colorado Springs Gazette, March 9)

“If you want to divide that $240,000 into the amount of hours spent, I think you would find that the per hour was probably not much at all, considering the work that had to be done.” —Former National Education Association president Reg Weaver, explaining why he deserves his $242,657 annual pension from the state of Illinois. (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 23)


“We were going to lose those dollars anyway. You saw the teachers grab for it.” —Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, on why food stamps were cut to fund the edu-jobs bill. (Politico.com, Aug. 6)

“You will literally be fired, whoever you are. You must spend this money.” —Maura Policelli, U.S. Department of Education’s senior adviser for external affairs, describing what would happen to school officials who don’t spend their stimulus money by the end of the following year. (Thompson.com, July 27)

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