COMMENTARY: University of Minnesota ramps up union activist program

Among the variety of current job postings at the University of Minnesota is one that got our attention: The University is hiring a "full-time labor educator". While the title may seem relatively innocuous, the job description is not. Among other things, the new labor educator will "collaborate with labor organizations to develop and implement courses, workshops, and other programs." If the job description sounds more like a politico than a professor, that's because the job is too.

The position is part of the university’s Labor Education Service (LES), whose mission is "to equip workers, union officials and labor organizations with the knowledge-based tools to protect and advance their rights and responsibilities in a changing global socio-economic environment." LES is essentially a taxpayer-funded training ground for union organizers and a breeding ground for organized labor’s extreme political agenda.

Yes, taxpayer-funded.

In fact, thanks to Governor Dayton and liberals in the state legislature, whose fealty to organized labor knows no bounds, LES just got a spending boost in the latest state budget. The higher education finance bill added $125,000 per year in FY 2014 and 2015 to LES’s base funding, allowing for LES to expand its operations. The state funds will presumably help LES defray the cost of new staff as well as programs like the three-day Minnesota Women’s Union Retreat. This year, the three-day retreat at Ruttger’s Resort featured luminaries from activist groups like Occupy Homes and Planned Parenthood, as well as a keynote address by Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis, who famously "joked" about beheading wealthy people. Previous LES training sessions have focused on issues such as "the Right Wing’s strategy for controlling the message – and analyze ways to advance a progressive agenda."

It should come as no surprise that there is no comparable activist training program at the University of Minnesota for opposing viewpoints. There is no Right to Work Institute or Employee Freedom Center at the U of M, nor is there a Pro-Life Activist Recruitment Network or Taxpayer Defense Office. But it is easy to imagine the outcry should any of those be proposed.

In recent years, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has requested a variety of data from LES under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, in order to bring more transparency to the program. Unfortunately, LES has not always welcomed that transparency. For example, a simple request for a summary of revenue and expenses by program received a particularly memorable response: "The Labor Education Service does not keep track of expense and revenues for individual projects. It is estimated that it will take staff members 80 hours to accumulate and calculate the information requested, for a total of $3,234.74." To be fair, no one ever claimed union labor is cheap.

So despite LES raising its profile and raking in more cash, the program continues to go virtually unnoticed, operating in relative anonymity and obscurity. In saner times, a flagship university system’s taxpayer-supported program to advance a narrow political agenda might attract a little scrutiny and skepticism from state legislators or the news media. Needless to say, these are not sane times.

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