A Janus-type reprieve for taxpayers

By Larry Sand
June 12, 2018

As we await a ruling in the public employee freedom case, it’s time to liberate taxpayers from being forced to support a union.

The Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court decision, due any day now, could free teachers and other public employees from having to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Hence, a teacher in California could save $1,100 or $1,200 a year if they so choose.

Assuming an unfavorable decision, the teachers unions are preparing for a haircut. The California Teachers Association is projecting a loss of 23,000 members, according to Mike Antonucci. The union also figures to lose a great majority of its 28,000 fee payers, those who have quit the union but still are forced to pay an “agency fee,” the amount of money the union claims it costs to represent them. But as a way to soften the financial hit, CTA has announced a per-teacher dues raise of $23 a year for the 2018-2019 school year, bringing the state component for teachers’ dues to $700 annually, which will help ease the pain of lost members.

CTA’s parent, the National Education Association, is also planning strategies pending an adverse Janus decision. While it is preparing for a 10 percent teacher quit-rate and has slashed its budget by $50 million, NEA has also raised its per teacher share of dues, from $189 to $192, and also has a few tricks up its sleeve to help make up for the financial shortfall. It is pondering a new class of member called “community ally.” As Antonucci writes, the new category would be open to “any person who demonstrates support in advancing the cause of public education, who advocates for the mission, vision, and core values of the Association, and who is not eligible for any other membership category.” Since labor unions can only solicit political action committee contributions from members, this could open the door for deep-pocketed folks like Tom Steyer to join. This strategy is legally tenuous to say the least, and most likely will be subject to judicial scrutiny

Where does all this leave the rest of us in California and many other states? Other than the aspect of fewer union dues dollars in politics, pretty much the same. First, the unions charge you for its dues collection. As I have written before, the taxpayer is the bagman for the teachers union, whose dues are deducted by the local school district from a teacher’s monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions. Some states, unlike California, are fighting back, however. In Oklahoma, Senate Bill 1150 is making the legislative rounds. The proposed law would prevent school districts from automatically deducting union dues from teacher paychecks. Instead, teachers would have to make arrangements with their union to submit payments. (While an Oklahoma City teacher union leader calls the bill “union busting,” it is actually a reduction of union abuse.) A similar bill is currently going through the legislative meat grinder in Louisiana.

Another egregious racket is that that no union pays a penny in income tax.  As a 501(c)(5), unions have a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” So NEA took in $365,874,501 in 2015, according to its most recent available tax return, all coming from taxpayer supported teachers’ salaries, and the union pays nary a penny to Uncle Sam. CTA’s income was $183,118,404 as per its latest return and that too is tax-free. The sickening irony here is that these unions persistently use their taxpayer-paid tax-free money to raise taxpayer taxes!

If the above were not bad enough, Californians now face AB 2577, a bill that would allow a “deduction an amount equal to the amount paid or incurred during the taxable year by a taxpayer for member dues to a labor organization.” As reported by the Pacific Research Institute, “Californians, in effect, will collectively subsidize union dues – the bill would cost taxpayers $250 million the first year, $170 million in 2019-20, and $180 million in 2020-21.” AB 2577 has already passed muster in the State Assembly.

And finally, one straight from the “wreaking of hypocrisy” file: the teachers unions are on an eternal mission to kill off charter schools and voucher programs, railing against “privatizers” who “try to make money from public education.” But when it comes to a private entity making a killing from public education, the teachers unions have no peers.

While fair-minded people everywhere are rooting for Mark Janus to win his case and strike a blow for employee freedom, here’s hoping the taxpayers in California and elsewhere will, at some point, get their shot at emancipation from the same abusive special interest.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.