Amid a high-profile year of strikes and collective organizing, right-wing media have bashed the nation’s labor unions repeatedly, blaming the groups for a variety of issues including supply chain disruptions, workplace safety issues, and the supposed indoctrination of students.
For over a decade, conservative media have blamed various societal problems on unions. In 2010 and 2011, Fox News personalities and guests repeatedly — and falsely — claimed collective bargaining by public sector unions was the cause of local and state budget shortfalls. Some in conservative media counterintuitively blamed unions for rising economic inequality or for the decline of America’s automotive industry. They fearmongered that allowing Transportation Security Administration employees to unionize would jeopardize national security, and they even falsely blamed union workers for a slow response to a blizzard in New York City in 2010.
This past year has proved no exception, despite the impacts of the global pandemic. Conservative media blamed collective organizing for a baffling array of national and international issues. Here are just a few of the major stories the right-wing media echo chamber twisted in order to launch attacks on organized labor this year.
Blaming unions for supposedly indoctrinating kids
In July 2021, the largest labor union in America, the National Education Association, adopted a resolution that defended members accused of teaching “critical race theory” (CRT) or the 1619 Project, a new historical account of American slavery and its aftereffects.
The right-wing media sphere jumped on the opportunity to claim this resolution was proof that CRT was taught in K-12 classrooms and that the union was an accessory to a vague indoctrination campaign.
- Fox host Tucker Carlson said, “The largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association, announced that its new and first priority is making anti-American indoctrination -- race-based indoctrination -- mandatory in every classroom in the country.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/6/21]
- Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth said the NEA statement is “evidence” that the teachers union supports CRT, saying, “You’re hearing the unions are organizing to attack the groups and the individuals coming after critical race theory.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/6/21]
- Hegseth again criticized language used to describe anti-racist curricula, suggesting it’s being used to “cloak” CRT. His guest Syndie Ly added, “The teachers unions are great at creating the propaganda” in reference to the NEA defending CRT. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/6/21]
- Fox contributor Leo Terrell claimed that the NEA “stated publicly that they’re going to implement critical race theory throughout all the school districts.” The resolution passed by the NEA merely said it opposes bans on CRT. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/6/21]
- Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer read parts of the NEA resolution and told his guest, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), “The union wants it from the kindergarten to the 12th grade.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 7/6/21]
- Fox News reporter Anita Vogel said that proponents of CRT were hesitant to admit that it’s being taught, but “now the NEA is out with this very public push.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 7/6/21]
- The Hill columnist and Fox contributor Joe Concha attacked the NEA, saying the focus on CRT and similar issues mentioned in the resolution will detract from teaching other skills: “While we’re focused on all those things you just mentioned, we’re going to continue to fall even further behind the rest of the industrial world in terms of educating our children and getting them ready for adulthood. But don't blame the teachers here, for the most part. Blame the teachers union.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 7/6/21]
- The Washington Examiner published an op-ed titled “The NEA prefers activism over unbiased history lessons.” [Washington Examiner, 7/6/21]
- The Daily Wire published an op-ed titled “Teachers Union President Falsely Claims CRT Critics Want To Ban Schools From ‘Teaching History,’ ‘Discussing Racism’” [The Daily Wire, 7/5/21]
- Right-leaning site Just the News published an article titled “Parents fight critical race theory as teacher's union commits over $127k to advance it.” The article pitted teachers unions against parents: “The teachers' union's plan to promote critical race theory comes amid a growing grassroots backlash of parents fighting against the influence of the ideology on educational curriculums in their school districts.” Additionally, the article quoted many anti-CRT activists who demonize the idea and insist it is a widespread issue. [Just the News, 7/5/21]
- The Daily Caller reported on the NEA resolution and repeatedly linked to work and tweets from Manhattan Institute fellow and anti-CRT activist Christopher Rufo. [The Daily Caller, 7/5/21, Media Matters, 6/23/21]
- The Gateway Pundit published an article titled “Nation’s Largest Teachers Union Approves Plan to Promote Hate-Based Critical Race Theory in All 50 States and 14,000 School Districts.” [The Gateway Pundit, 7/4/21]
- Breitbart published an article on the NEA resolution titled “Nation’s Largest Teachers’ Union Resolves to Promote Critical Race Theory, Obstruct Critics.” The article described CRT as “Marxist” and claimed, “The NEA’s resolutions have undercut the left’s narrative that CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, as Fox News reported Saturday.” [Breitbart, 7/4/21]
- Rufo said on Twitter that the NEA proposal is proof that “the argument that ‘critical race theory isn't in K-12 schools’ is officially dead.” He claimed in a later tweet that CRT is the NEA’s #1 priority and that “the teachers union wants to double-down and impose this divisive ideology on your children." [Twitter, 7/3/21]
- RedState published an op-ed in response to the union’s CRT resolution titled “Kira Davis: No More Dancing Around...It's Time to End Teachers Unions.” It continued to say in bold lettering, “Teachers unions are a scourge and it is time to end them.” [RedState, 6/30/21]
Accusing unions and the CDC of corruption
Right-wing media also attacked teachers unions that were trying to ensure safe working conditions amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
After emails between the American Federation of Teachers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about safe school reopenings were published, right-wing media accused the AFT of “lobbying” the CDC.
The New York Post, which first published the story, framed the emails as scandalous, even though the CDC had said in February that it would be working with educators to discuss safe school reopenings.
Furthermore, there was data showing that teachers in schools had higher rates of coronavirus cases than other members of the community. Legitimate safety concerns were articulated to the CDC over email, yet right-wing media scandalized the story in a predictable effort to vilify the educators' union.
- The New York Post published the emails, framing the exchange in the headline as “Powerful teachers union influenced CDC on school reopenings, emails show.” [The New York Post, 5/1/21]
- On Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Pete Hegseth mocked the AFT’s concerns for teachers’ safety, saying that “they’re rigging it so they don’t have to go to work.” Co-host Will Cain chimed in: “This wasn't the AFT lobbying the CDC. This was the AFT puppeteering the CDC.” He continued, ranting after he quoted the CDC’s statement on discussions with the AFT: “The education of your children be damned. That’s the takeaway in the end that we need to understand. There is no sacrifice too great, including the education of our children, to stand in the way of the political agenda of things like the teachers unions and their manipulation of our government bureaucracies, like the CDC.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 5/2/21]
- The next day on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade called the discussion between the AFT and the CDC “outrageous,” saying: “The people that should be most outraged, if they are surprised by this, is everybody involved in the Biden administration. They should be outraged by what is happening. Why are the unions talking to the CDC? I want my science to be pure, reporting to me. I don't want them dealing with any union or any outside group. They should be outraged by it -- unless they knew, and they were complicit all along.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/3/21]
- On Fox’s America’s Newsroom that day, co-anchor Dana Perino made a nonsensical comparison about this discussion, calling it a “bombshell scandal”: “It's as if -- for comparison’s sake, imagine that ExxonMobil was writing specific guidance on climate change issues and giving it to a Republican administration at the Department of Energy, and they issued it.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/3/21]
- On Fox’s Outnumbered, Fox contributor Karl Rove noted that the AFT also sent the CDC emails to White House officials, calling it “a particularly thuggish move.” Later in the segment, Rove lambasted the AFT for its political donations to Democrats and connected that to political actions in the union’s favor. “This is a big, giant, expensive gift to the teachers union,” he said of school COVID-19 relief funding, “and they got it in part because they gave a lot of political money and they provide a lot of political muscle to Democratic candidates,” he said. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/3/21]
- Sinclair’s The National Desk interviewed right-wing school privatization advocate Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, who demanded AFT President Randi Weingarten resign and claimed the AFT got school reopenings delayed. [Sinclair Broadcast Group, The National Desk, 5/5/21]
Blaming unions for global supply chain shortages
After ports in Los Angeles were overloaded with cargo, right-wing media sought to blame unions for the supply chain disruptions caused by the backup. In reality, the supply chain issues aren’t even unique to U.S. ports; there have been significant global disruptions in manufacturing and distribution in many industries as a result of COVID-19.
The Washington Post explained that labor cuts by railroad transportation companies added to the problem. Unions have expressed their willingness to cooperate with management to expedite the unloading and distribution of cargo, however unions say management has been unwilling to address hiring rates of union workers.
Rather than explaining the complexities behind the port congestion, right-wing news ran with a tired anti-union angle.
- Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy invited Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to blame unions for a backlog of container ships at California ports. Doocy asked, “How big a problem are the unions out there when it comes to getting the stuff off?” Issa replied of the workers, “They are good people. They just cannot get their union to let them expand the force to meet the requirement, and that's got to change.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/22/21]
- Doocy later cited Issa to blame unions for the supply chain problems: “He did not blame the truck drivers. He blames the unions. And, remember, it was last week that Joe Biden said hey, I sat down and talked to Walmart and I talked to FedEx and I talked to the unions, and they’ve agreed to offload stuff at night and the unions will work at night. So clearly, according to Darrell Issa, you can blame the unions for a lot of the problem.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/22/21]
- The Daily Caller published a piece titled “Labor Strikes Are Exploding Across The US Amid Supply Chain Chaos, Vaccine Mandates,” which highlighted labor strikes as “potentially painting a grim picture for consumers about to start their holiday shopping.” [The Daily Caller, 10/18/21]
- The far-right blog Breitbart published several anti-union pieces that blamed unions for slow unloading of the docks while ignoring the port management’s role. [Breitbart News, 10/29/21, 10/27/21, 10/26/21]
- The Federalist published a piece titled “Unionizing Truckers Will Only Make The Supply Chain Crisis Worse” that claimed unions would add unnecessary regulations and not improve wages. The author’s claim that unions could not raise wages as trucking companies are “maxed out” on what they can pay experienced drivers appears to be dubious. The author does not cite evidence, and the trucking industry has increased its profitability this year. [The Federalist, 12/7/21; Fastcapital360, 11/30/21]