After Janus, California teachers unions teaching us a lesson in sleight-of-hand

Santa Ana Unified’s Monte Vista Elementary: Everybody graduates, only 15% read at grade level. (Source: California School Acountability Report Card)

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the 40-year practice of requiring public employees to join a union. But a day later, union leaders in California’s sixth-largest school district were hard at work – blocking the exits.

In a June 28 email, Santa Ana Educators Association president Barbara Pearson urged teachers to renew membership in her union. She helpfully provided a one-page application and simple instructions for returning it.

Her email and the language of the new member agreement reveal how desperate the union has become. While you can join the union easily (“Feel free to fill out your form and email to paulhsaea@hotmail.com or saeapresident1@gmail.com”), getting out is another story. Check out the fine print:

“I fully understand that the dues required for membership in the three associations [local, CTA, NEA] are subject to periodic change by the associations’ governing bodies and authorize dues payment on a continuing basis, and regardless of my membership status, unless my obligation to do so ends under one of the circumstances below.”

What are those circumstances?

“This agreement to pay dues continues from year to year, regardless of my membership status, unless: I revoke it by sending written notice via U.S. mail to CTA Member Services, P.O. Box 4178, Burlingame, CA 94011, not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement; my employment with the Employer ends; or as otherwise required by law.”

To summarize the “circumstances”: You’re signing up for three associations. The dues can change whenever those associations say they can. You’ll pay those dues for as long as you teach in that district.

There’s one way out: If  you want to leave the union, the new agreement states, you must snail-mail your resignation letter so that it arrives in the union’s P.O. Box (not its widely published street address) within a 30-day window before the anniversary of the day you filled out the form (“not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement”).

Clear? Of course not. And that’s the point. If this sort of contract were part of your credit card, home loan, or cell phone agreement, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau might call it a deceptive marketing practice or an improper contract disclosure.

But this is a government union, and government union leaders have little experience with recruiting members honestly. Until yesterday, they relied on force to make public employees pay the union. Now, following Janus, they’ve resorted to deception. The lesson the teachers union taught us on June 28: When coercion is illegal, and when persuasion fails, try sleight of hand.