Updated 07/03/11 – 4:22 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Vice President Joe Biden has been in Chicago, speaking to a nationwide teachers union, saying Republicans are attempting to blame educators for budget shortfalls; and he said that’s “one of the biggest scams in modern American history.”
The vice president spoke Sunday at the National Education Association’s annual convention. The union bills itself as the largest labor union in the U.S.
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Steve Miller reports, Biden told the 9,000 conventioneers, in Chicago for the NEA meeting, that he and President Barack Obama are on their side, unlike—he said – the new Republican Party.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Steve Miller reports
“I just wish those folks who are attacking you now, I wish those folks who are trying to ascribe the blame for the worst recession America’s had since the Great Depression knew you a little better,” Biden said.
He told the teachers’ convention that the new Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party. “This is a different breed of cat,” Biden said.
Talking about the plight of union teachers in Wisconsin and other states where budget battles have pitted Republican governors against teachers unions, Biden said the Republican Party has made a direct assault on labor.
“You know, all states are struggling from the impacts of this brutal recession that we inherited, yet there is an organized effort to place the blame for the budget shortfalls squarely on educators and other public workers. It is one of the biggest scams in modern American history,” Biden said.
Biden said that past Republican leaders would have negotiated better with labor unions, rather than try to curb their collective bargaining rights, as Wisconsin Republicans have.
Biden also said he respected the disagreements that teachers unions have had with the Obama administration, adding “not all of it are you wrong about.”
Nationally, educators will tell you outside the classroom, it’s become a tough time to be a teacher
Moves in Wisconsin, for example, to strip collective bargaining rights had them fighting back political charges that teachers can be overpaid and under-productive.
“I went into education 10 years ago and to see the transformation and attitude toward teachers in that short time frame has really been difficult,” Bill Farmer, a science teacher at Evanston Township High School, told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole.
Farmer’s thoughts were echoed over and over by his fellow delegates at the NEA’s annual meeting.
“You wonder what’s going to make someone want to become a teacher in this type of environment that seems hostile to our profession,” Farmer added.
Even in a city where unions carry clout, huge budget deficits have The Chicago Board of Education canceling teacher negotiated 4 percent pay raises, a move not lost on those here from other states.
“For them to come in and say your contracts are null and void, that’s not the way business does business,” said Dan Haskell, a math teacher and delegate from Corydon, Ind.
“I think we are the end of the line, I think everybody’s been a target,” said Kathryn Castle, a delegate and educator from Elgin.
Castle said that in these tight economic times, teachers from around the country recognize it’s their turn to give back, but she also said they deserve a voice in the process.
“We believe sitting down at a table is the only way to move forward,” she said.
As Biden addressed the convention and promised teachers White House support, there was still concern about the long-term impact of recent struggles on those choosing to teach in the first place.
“It’s more frustrating for me to worry about the future of young teachers,” Haskell said.
“People question, is this the profession they want to stay in?” Farmer said
The NEA represents 3.2 million teachers nationwide. Members include educators here in Illinois, but Chicago Public School teachers are represented by a different union. Illinois delegates had praise for significant changes made in the state’s education policy signed into law earlier this month. The changes call for employment decisions based on effectiveness not seniority, and were negotiated by including teachers themselves in the bargaining process.
Biden’s speech came a day before the NEA’s vote on whether to endorse Obama’s bid for re-election.