Andy Stern was once a powerful labor leader as head of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). Since stepping down, however, he has turned against the movement he once led and is an outspoken foe of teachers’ unions. He even joined the board of the Broad Foundation, which is anti-union and anti-public school. I don’t know Stern, but I have seen one article that describes his change of views.

Stern developed a reputation as a business-friendly union leader, known for striking deals with companies that were often seen as too weak by many in the labor movement. Under the guise of modernization and growth, Stern seemed to lose his connection to the grassroots, radical, people-powered aspects of the union world. In 2010, The Nation quoted one union leader as saying, “Andy Stern leaves pretty much without a friend in the labor movement.”

His post-SEIU years have only intensified this feeling. Stern has spent the past decade serving on corporate boards, touting the idea of a universal basic incomeas an economic solution superior to building labor power, and further ingratiating himself to corporate America as a sort of post-union ambassador to the Aspen Institute world. He also took a seat on the board of the Broad Foundation, a billionaire-funded group that pushed charter schools—raising eyebrows from teacher’s unions, who are often cast as the villain by wealthy reformers seeking to build alternatives to America’s public education system.

Of course, he is not the only labor leader who flipped to the other side. George Parker was president of the Washington, D.C., teachers union at the time when Michelle Rhee became chancellor and started her famous campaign to crack down on teachers. At the end of his term in 2011, he teamed up with Rhee and spoke out against the same issues he had once championed. He went to work for Rhee’s StudentsFirst and joined her campaign for charters, vouchers, merit pay, and test-based evaluation. Now he works with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Paul Toner was vice-president, then president of the Massachusetts Teachers Union from 2006 to 2014. After his term ended, he joined the “reform” movement, as a Pahara-Aspen Institute Fellow, a graduate of the Broad Academy,  and currently executive director of the Gates-funded Teach Plus, which is generally pro-testing and anti-union (its CEO is John B. King Jr. and its board includes DFER favorite, former Congressman George Miller). For criticism, see here and here.

In 2011, Sam Dillon of the New York Times called out TeachPlus for its role in pushing through policies in state legislatures that Gates favored, but unions did not. Dillon was one of the first journalists to realize that Gates was creating Astroturf groups to advance his agenda:

INDIANAPOLIS — A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.

Toner was succeeded at the Massachusetts Teachers Association by firebrand Barbara Madeloni, who led the successful fight to block a Walton-funded referendum in Massachusetts in 2016 to stop charter school expansion.

Just last year, Madeloni wrote an article about Toner’s switching sides. She writes that as soon as someone becomes a union president, he or she is offered the “soft handshake” by corporate and political leaders who want to woo them to the other side. She wrote:

As an elected leader of the largest union in Massachusetts, I found myself with many invitations to meet and cut deals with the very people whose policies the members opposed.

I wasn’t elected to get a better bad deal. I was elected to refuse their deals and reestablish the power of educators, students, and families.

Everyone has a right to change his or her mind. I did it myself. Still, I was not the leader of an organization; I was an individual who said, “I was wrong.” I admit that I don’t entirely understand how someone goes from being the president of a labor union to opposing the people they previously represented.