Mark Hemingway: Union uses child's life as a bargaining chip

Perhaps the scariest moment of my life was rushing my young daughter to the hospital after giving her peanut butter for the first time. Her face broke out into a rash, and my wife and I were terrified that she might stop breathing.

At the hospital, we learned her peanut allergy was relatively mild, but further tests revealed she was also deathly allergic to tree nuts. Whenever we drop my daughter off with family, her playgroup, or neighbors, we hand over an EpiPen auto-injector syringe. If she's exposed to walnuts, I have to trust someone else to give her a shot of epinephrine in the thigh, or else, well, I don't even like thinking about it.

So imagine my outrage when I saw ReasonTV report that unions killed a bill in the California state legislature that would allow teachers and other school personnel to administer the medication Diastat to epileptic children, provided they volunteer for training. Diastat immediately stops prolonged seizures that can mean brain damage or death.

Like my daughter's EpiPen, Diastat comes in a specially packaged syringe designed to be easily administered with little or no medical training. That's because it usually has to be administered before an ambulance can arrive. The medication was administered by nonmedical personnel in California schools for over 10 years, before the California Nurses Association union abruptly changed its policy last year.

However, the Epilepsy Foundation, the California Medical Association and the Association of California Neurologists all supported the bill. The only real opposition came from teachers unions, which made sure the bill never emerged from committee. Why would they be willing to let the lives of children hang in the balance?

“We think the solution is school districts to hire appropriate staff to care for our children,” Gayle McClean, president of the California School Nurses Association Southern Section, told ReasonTV.

So there you have it. Doctors think the bill will save lives, but union officials think your child's life is just a bargaining chip for more jobs in California's bloated public-sector work force and thus more dues-paying union members.

This isn't an isolated incident either — unions have a history of putting their needs above children. Under intense pressure from powerful teachers unions, congressional Democrats passed a $26.1 billion bailout last week, expected to help state governments pay the salaries of 160,000 teachers as state and local governments feel the economic pinch.

However, in order to pay for it, Democrats cut $12 billion from food stamps.

“We're taking money from feeding poor kids so middle-class teachers don't have to look for jobs,” Frederick M. Hess, director of the education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Daily Caller.

But don't expect unions to care about suffering children. “It's not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. [The National Education Association] and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power,” Bob Chanin, former top counsel for the NEA, said at the organization's annual gathering last year.

“And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year,” he added.

Those dues then go to politicians, who are so indebted, they do whatever the unions tell them — even if it means putting your child at risk.

If unions are withholding Diastat in schools today, it's not hard for me to imagine them also ransoming my daughter's lifesaving EpiPen tomorrow. If we don't fight back when unions are endangering our children, when will we?

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at

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