Editor’s note: This post was updated on 7/13/2018 to include the following RETRACTION: The CSEA (California Schools Employees Association) has provided clarification of actual member dues revenue. The author’s previous assumptions, now known to be erroneous, were that (1) CSEA is a decentralized union meaning that significant dues revenue is retained by local affiliates, and (2) that annual dues revenue was based on 2% of pay instead of the lower 1.5%, and (3) that the maximum allowable dues per year was higher than what is actually the case.
To rectify this, this article now states that total government union revenue in California is at least $800 million per year. That is based on the inaccurate estimate originally made for CSEA’s annual revenue, $159 million, now being reduced to the revenue disclosed by the CSEA on their 990, $67M. This lower annual figure for CSEA, $67M, has been incorporated accordingly into the revised analysis to follow. While the CSEA does have independent affiliates, their revenue is far less than what we assumed, for the reasons stated, and for this overall estimate of all union revenue we are simply leaving that amount out of our calculations.
As explained in the article, it is difficult to accurately compile estimates of total government union dues and memberships, and to do so with the information and resources available requires making reasonable assumptions. If we learn of further erroneous assumptions used to compile any of these estimates, they will be diligently corrected. We regret the error.
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In the wake of the Janus ruling, it is useful to estimate just how much money California’s government unions collect and spend each year. Because government unions publicly disclose less than what the law requires of public corporations or private sector unions, only estimates are possible.
The primary source of information comes from Form 990s that government unions must provide to the IRS each year. Copies of these 990s can usually be found on Guidestar.org; sometimes they are also available on the union websites. While these 990s are useful, to put together reasonably accurate estimates of total government union revenue they require careful analysis and supplemental information from elsewhere. With these limitations noted, here are summary estimates of how much money California’s taxpayers are providing to government unions, who withhold their dues directly from the payroll departments of public agencies.
PUBLIC EDUCATION UNIONS
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 there were 422,248 “full time equivalent” teachers employed in California’s K-12 system of public education. In California’s UC and CSU systems of higher education, there were 30,005 faculty instructors. Support staff in the K-12 system numbered 239,726 employees, and in higher education they numbered 40,770 employees.
The largest union focused on K-12 teachers is the California Teachers Association (CTA), easily the largest and most powerful union in California. Their most recent financials, for the year 2015, show declared revenue of $190 million, with $178 million of that declared as dues from members. This, however, greatly understates the power of the CTA.
Not only is the CTA a branch of the nationally focused National Education Association, but the CTA in turn is comprised of local chapters. These local chapters retain a significant share of dues revenue, which they report on their own 990 forms. The CTA chapter United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), for example, declared membership dues of $38.9 million in 2015.
Collecting exact financial data including dues revenue for all CTA chapters would be possible, but not easy. Including the behemoth UTLA, the CTA has 1,100 chapters, plus the California Faculty Association and 42 chapters in the Community College Association. But making a reasonable estimate is possible based on the CTA “Fact Sheet” where they declare a membership of 325,000, combined with the UTLA’s disclosure of their “new dues structure,” wherein full time members pay $1,014 per year.
Based on this information, one may estimate the total annual dues revenue of the CTA and its affiliates at around $330 million per year. While some members may not pay the full dues, which might lower this estimate, the CTA and affiliates have other sources of income including investment income. For example, at the end of 2015 the CTA declared net assets of over $190 million, and the UTLA declared net assets of $28.6 million.
While the CTA is huge, it is not the only union player in California’s system of public education. A much smaller but still very large and powerful teachers union active in California is the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), a branch of the American Federation of Teachers. On their “Who We Are” page, the CFT claims a membership of 120,000, spread over 145 local chapters.
Just as with the CTA, precisely calculating the total dues revenue of the CFT is nearly impossible. Moreover, some of the AFT’s claimed chapters, the UTLA in particular, are actually quasi-independent unions that are affiliated with the CTA and the CFT. But based on their membership claims, and taking into account these complicating factors, a reasonable estimate of the total dues revenue for the CFT and their direct local affiliates is probably around $100 million.
The power of the unions in California’s system of public education doesn’t stop with the CTA and CFT, however. There is also the California School Employees Association (CSEA), claiming membership of 240,000 mostly “classified” (non-instructional) support staff. The CSEA is divided into “Areas” and “Regions” which is their equivalent of local chapters. Their 990 reports a 2015 revenue of $67.2 million.
In summary, subject to the limitations in the available data and what appear to be reasonable assumptions, California’s public education employee unions, the CTA, the CFT, and the CSEA, altogether are probably collecting around $497 million per year.
PUBLIC SAFETY UNIONS
The difficulties inherent in estimating revenue for public education unions are equally present when trying to estimate revenue for public safety unions. The firefighter unions and police unions are for the most part decentralized. The Los Angeles Police Protective League illustrates this point. With revenue in 2016 of $11.6 million. When their membership dues, $10.4 million, is divided by their 9,900 membership, their average dues can be estimated to be $1,152 per year.
Extrapolating this estimate of average dues to the total number of full-time police officers in California, 63,230, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “Police Protection – Persons with Power of Arrest,” it is reasonable to estimate the California’s total police union dues revenue is around $72.8 million per year. This number could be larger, based on the Public Policy Institute’s recent analysis which states “In 2015 there were more than 118,000 full-time law enforcement employees in California; roughly 77,000 were sworn law enforcement officers (with full arrest powers) and 41,000 were civilian staff.”
Firefighter unions, also decentralized into locals, defy easy compilations of total revenue. A conservative estimate of their average dues would be to assume they are comparable to police union dues, $1,100 per year. According to the CPF website they “claim over 175 IAFF locals as CPF affiliates, serving more than 30,000 paid professional firefighters. ” This is consistent with the U.S. Census data, which estimates “Fire Protection – Firefighters” at 28,907 employees” and “Fire Protection – Other” at 4,182 employees.
Based on these variables, total annual revenue for all affiliates of the California Professional Firefighters union is estimated to be around $33 million per year.
The other public safety union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, appears to be a centralized organization, claiming 39,750 members. Their 990 for 2016 declares total revenue of $29.3 million, This implies an annual dues of $1,088 per year, which is consistent with other unions.
In summary, California’s public safety unions, the CPOA, the CPF, and the CCPOA, along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.
OTHER PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS
No survey of California’s government unions is complete without taking a look at three very large and influential unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the California State Employee Association (CSEA, not to be confused with the California School Employees Association), and the California Nurses Association.
With these unions as well it is difficult to gather accurate compiled data, because in each case dozens if not hundreds of local affiliates are filing separate 990 forms. AFSCME California, for example, includes the following:
Council 36 – extending across Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego representing more than 55 autonomous Local Unions whose members work in local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Council 57 – representing workers in schools and community colleges, transit agencies, public works and services, clinics and hospitals, and water and wastewater facilities throughout Northern California and the Central Valley, as well as the health and social service professionals in corrections facilities across California.
Employees Association of the Metropolitan Water District, Local 1902 – representing the workers of Southern California water districts including accountants, designers, electricians, engineers, environmental specialists, inspectors, IT, mechanics, meter technicians, pipelayers, and PR specialists.
Management and Professional Employees Association of the Metropolitan Water District, Local 1001 – representing the management and professional employees of the the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) – representing over 29,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
United Domestic Workers of America, Local 3930 (UDW) – representing nearly 98,000 in-home support services (IHSS) workers in 21 California counties who take care of Californians with disabilities, the sick, and the elderly.
United EMS Workers, Local 4911 – representing approximately 4,000 private sector emergency medical services (EMS) workers in California whose mission is to raise standards in EMS and protect services for the public.
Union of American Physicians and Dentists, Local 206 (UAPD) – representing doctors working for the State of California, California counties, non-profit healthcare clinics, and in private practice.
University of California Employees, Local 3299 – the University of California’s largest employee union, representing more than 24,000 employees at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of the Law.
Public Employees Union, Local 1 – representing public employees in Contra Costa, West Contra Costa, Merced, Sutter/Yuba, and El Dorado counties.
Calculating the total dues revenue of AFSCME California’s ten major networks of union locals is difficult; precisely estimating their total number of members is impossible to acquire via publicly available information. Based on the information provided on the websites of these locals, total membership can be guessed at. Four of the AFSCME California networks disclose their membership (in italics, above), totaling 155,000. Examining the descriptions of the other six networks suggests a conservative estimate of an additional 45,000 members. Assuming annual dues revenue of $400 per year per member, AFSCME is collecting $80 million per year. That’s probably on the low side.
The California State Employee Association is an agglomeration of three principle unions, the California State University Employees Union with revenue in 2016 of $7.1 million, the Association of California State Supervisors, with 2016 revenue of $3.4 million, and the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, with 96,000 members and 2016 revenue of $63.2 million. Altogether the unions that comprise the California State Employees Association in 2016 collected revenue of $73.7 million.
Including the California Nurses Association among a survey of public sector unions requires some explanation. It clearly would be inaccurate to claim that all their members work in the public sector. For the purposes of this compilation, we will assume that 25% of them work for public healthcare facilities, based, for example, on their penetration of the UC system healthcare networks and many of California’s county medical centers. The CNA claims membership of 80,000 and for 2016 their 990 declared revenue of $107.8 million.
In summary, California’s other major public sector unions, AFSCME, the CSEA including SEIU Local 1000, and the CNA (est. public sector portion at 25%), along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.
Based primarily on publicly disclosed 2016 form 990s along with information obtained from their individual websites, in aggregate, California’s major public sector unions are estimated to be collecting $800 million per year.
Because there are undoubtedly smaller and less visible public sector unions operating in California, this number may be conservative. The number is also possibly understated because when making assumptions, conservative estimates were always applied. This was the done when estimating average membership dues in nearly all cases, and also with respect to total membership.
Editor’s Note – 7/15: Notwithstanding the above, because we have learned new information that required us to revise downwards our assumptions regarding the CSEA’s total revenue (including all local affiliates), we must (1) caution any reader that these numbers are difficult to compile precisely because in California there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of individual local public sector union affiliates all filing separate 990 forms, often including financial transfers between entities that have to be offset in any thorough analysis – a nearly impossible task, and (2) upon learning of them, we will diligently correct any further wrong assumptions remaining in this analysis.
California’s Public Sector Unions (including local affiliates)
Estimated Total Membership and Revenues
It would go beyond the scope of this analysis to speculate as to what impact the recent Janus ruling will have on government union membership and revenues, or to ponder the degree and kind of political influence of the three major blocks of unions; teachers, public safety, and public service.
It is relevant, however, to emphasize that the reach of these unions, because many of them are highly decentralized, extends to the finest details of public administration, into the smallest local jurisdictions. When recognizing the profound statewide impact of public sector union political agenda, it is easy to forget that fact, and the implications it carries for virtually every city, county, special district, or school district in California.
Ed Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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The reactions from representatives of California’s public sector unions to the Janus ruling are revealing. For any member thinking about quitting these unions, these reactions, and the political agenda they epitomize, bear close scrutiny.
Here are excerpts from a press release regarding Janus on the California Teachers Association website: “Today’s ruling is an attack on working people that attempts to further rig the economy … the decision is the result of a well-funded and nationally orchestrated effort to weaken the ability of working men and women to come together as unions and to speak with one, united voice.”
And here are excerpts from what the Peace Officers Research Association of California had to say about Janus on their website: “This is the dawn of the war against both labor unions and the law enforcement profession in this country, and no association should choose to stand alone. A united voice is more important now than ever before.”
These responses typify the reactions from California’s public sector unions, and there is one major fact they willfully ignore. Janus did not affect private sector unions at all. As always, these government unions pretend they have solidarity with unions that operate in the private sector. They don’t. Government unions don’t have to be reasonable when they negotiate. Instead of putting a company out of business, which is what an unreasonable demand could do to a private company, government unions just elect and control politicians who vote to raise taxes.
What irony. These government unions depend on taxes paid by private sector “working men and women,” yet falsely claim solidarity with them.
While we’re on the topic of solidarity, why on earth would PORAC want to declare solidarity with the teachers union? There are legitimate reasons to criticize police unions, and police officers could probably operate just fine with civil service protection combined with the clout wielded by voluntary associations that didn’t engage in collective bargaining. But police unions did not destroy the effectiveness of law enforcement. They’re actually doing a pretty good job. The teachers union, on the other hand, has nearly destroyed public education.
So why, PORAC, would you need to declare that “a united voice is more important now than ever before”?
Now that union members can stop paying dues, it’s unlikely members of public safety unions will do so. The level of cohesion among public safety professionals, law enforcement, fire fighters, and correctional officers, is far higher than what might unify teachers. The knowledge that public safety professionals may at any time have to face strategically applied cartel violence, or unexpected natural conflagrations of stupefying ferocity, gives them a sense of fellowship that teachers – for all the nobility of their calling – will never know.
Janus isn’t just about quitting the union, however. Even if members choose to continue to pay their dues to public safety unions, that doesn’t mean they can’t hold them more accountable. Public safety unions could channel more of their political activism into helping to counter the leftist political agenda of the teachers unions.
Public safety professionals realize the consequences of leftist policies. Every day they patrol and protect communities ravaged by welfare programs that have destroyed work ethics and dismantled nuclear families. Every day they cope with fallout from gang conflict and drug abuse. Every day they endure the frustration of contending with problems caused by a porous border, ruthlessly controlled on its southern side by the renegade private armies of a corrupt and failed state. Every day they have to mitigate these ongoing and escalating problems while looking over their shoulder to see if they’ve “profiled” someone or committed some similar phony transgression. Every day they have to endure undeserved hostility, funded and fomented by anti-American leftist oligarchs, because of the isolated actions of a vanishingly few bad apples.
For these reasons, public safety unions have, for the most part, stayed in touch with the political sentiments of their members. Their political advocacy at the state and national level has been neutral or conservative.
The teachers union is a completely different story. Many public school teachers, possibly even a majority, witness daily examples of the same consequences of leftist policy. They see the almost unbelievable absurdity of now being forced to allow racial quotas to govern how many students they may suspend or expel. They see the children entering school each day bearing the scars of homes broken by welfare, or devastated by drug abusing parents. They understand the futility of trying to teach effectively when permissiveness is the answer to misbehavior, and the worst teachers are protected at all costs by a fanatical union.
The agenda of the teachers union is preposterously misguided. They want open borders. They promote multiculturalism over assimilation. They’re training young immigrant students to believe that America – the most welcoming, tolerant culture in the history of the world – is a hostile and racist nation where they will inevitably be victims of discrimination. They’ve even gotten rid of English immersion. They’re teaching young boys to deny their masculinity, and training young girls to resent the “patriarchy.” On a scale of deplorable, with ten being the worst, the teachers union is an eleven. Disgruntled members should quit. Immediately. Permanently.
In a perfect world, private sector unions would thrive wherever they were needed – and they often are needed – in a right-to-work environment, and public sector unions would be illegal. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Until that time, the pretense of solidarity between public safety unions and the teachers union should be openly recognized as fraudulent. And the members, in both these unions, should aggressively use their new rights to hold their leaders politically accountable.
Ed Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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Here is a rebuttal to this column by Steven Greenhut.
A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions, February 2018
In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 2016
Pension Reform Requires Mutual Empathy, not Enmity, October 2015
Police Unions in America, December 2014
How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 2014
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued their decision in the landmark case Janus vs. AFSCME, ruling that public sector unions can no longer force public employees to pay union dues. Janus argued that even so-called “agency fees,” which unions claim are only for collective bargaining and are therefore non-political, are, in fact, inherently political. As a result, Janus argued that mandatory collection of agency fees violated his first amendment right to free speech.
The court agreed, writing “union speech covers critically important and public matters such as the State’s budget crisis, taxes, and collective bargaining issues related to education, child welfare, healthcare, and minority rights.” We might add that public sector collective bargaining also affects work rules, hirings, terminations and promotions, ‘non-political’ lobbying, get-out-the-vote efforts, funding for educational public relations and academic studies; the list goes on.
Public sector union spending is indeed inherently political, and it is also intensely partisan, overwhelmingly supporting the party of bigger government.
While it was generally expected that the court would rule in favor of the plaintiff, Mark Janus, it was uncertain whether the scope of the ruling would extend to mandating opt-in vs. opt-out. Currently, for that portion of government union dues that are declared by the union to be used for explicitly political purposes – roughly 20% to 30% – members have to go through a laborious and intimidating “opt-out” process. Even as Janus extends that opt-out right to cover all dues, including agency fees, it can still be very difficult for public employees to stop paying these unions.
As it turns out, the court’s decision takes the further step of requiring public employees to opt-in to paying union dues. The court writes “Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” That is, instead of employees having to ask the union to stop withholding dues, now the union has to ask the employee to start withholding dues.
This is a major enhancement to the scope of the Janus decision, but government unions are working to minimize its impact.
HOW THE UNIONS WILL USE CONTRACTS TO GET EMPLOYEES TO WAIVE THEIR “OPT-IN” RIGHTS
A critical variable, not clearly addressed in today’s Janus decision, is when, and how often, an employee must “affirmatively consent to pay.” Related to this, and also requiring expert legal interpretation, is how requiring an employee to “affirmatively consent to pay” may conflict with contract law. What if the employee waives that right when signing an employment agreement? What if that waiver is buried in a more general employment agreement? Is that enforceable?
Take a look at this actual example of an actual recent agreement between an employee and their government union:
As can be seen, this contract has been modified to read “if I rescind my membership and if existing law changes so that non-members are no longer required by law to contribute, I agree that the contributions authorized above shall continue and this authorization shall automatically renew annually, irrespective of my membership status, unless and until I submit a timely signed revocation of this authorization. To be timely, a revocation must be mailed to OCEA’s office, postmarked between 75 and 45 days before such annual renewal date.”
Has an employee who signs this form, likely along with countless other forms they’ll sign on the first days of their initial employment, from then on permanently waived their right to only opt-in to dues payments? If you opt-in one time, are you stuck having to opt-out from then on? Every year?
To ensure that contracts such as the one featured here are signed, California’s union compliant legislature offers SB 285 and AB-2017, bills that make it difficult, if not impossible, for employers – or anyone else – to discuss the pros and cons of unionization with employees. These bills also refer any alleged violations to the union-packed Public Employment Relations Board instead of the courts.
Then to make the contractually mandated, Janus altering, opt-out process even more difficult, AB 1937 and AB-2049 prohibit local government agencies from unilaterally honoring employee requests to stop paying union dues.
There is an even more fundamental way the unions will try to obliterate the impact of the Janus ruling.
UNIONS MAY ATTEMPT TO FORCE STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO DIRECTLY FUND UNIONS
Some government union advocates have already begun legal research into removing government union funding from any direct relationship to individual government employees. In an 6/27 article on Vox entitled “How Democratic lawmakers should help unions reeling from the Janus decision,” the author argues that since unions only extract around 2% of wages, and since studies show that unionization confers a 17% better wage and benefit package, the employer should simply turn over 2% of total wages to the unions, rather than deduct 2% from individual paychecks. They write: “But if public employers simply paid the 2 percent directly to the unions – giving the same 15 percent raise to employees but not channeling the extra 2 percent through employee paychecks – then there would be no possible claim that employees were being compelled to do anything, and thus no constitutional problem.”
An article published today in Slate makes a similar argument. The authors write: “States can replace their fair-share fee laws with provisions that require or allow public sector employers to subsidize unions directly.” They even claim that such a measure would reduce employee’s tax liabilities since their taxable income would be cut by 2% in order to fund the state’s direct union contribution in a “revenue neutral” manner. To support their argument for this “direct payment alternative” the authors cite a law review article published in 2015 by law professors Aaron Tang of UC Davis, and Benjamin Sachs of Harvard.
The political power of public sector unions in California and other blue states is almost impossible to overstate. Returning governance to elected officials by rolling back the power of these unions will be a long and difficult fight. The highly visible steps the unions are taking or testing – the direct payment alternative, contracts that temporarily or permanently waive an employee’s right to free speech, forced dues for up to one year after opting-out – can be challenged in court. They may also be politically unpopular – direct payments in particular would be a hard sell to voters.
The more subtle ways unions are buttressing their power in the post Janus environment may be harder to stop, and collectively create daunting barriers to reform. Examples including denying right-to-work and pro-free-speech groups access to public employees, forbidding employers to discuss pros and cons of unionization, mandatory new employee “orientations” with union membership commitments filled with fine print and buried in multiple documents requiring a signature, handing dispute resolutions over to the union-packed PERB instead of the courts, broadening the base of employees eligible to join the unions.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, for government union reformers the post-Janus era “is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
16-1466 Janus v. State, County, and Municipal Employees (06/27/2018) – US Supreme Court
A Time for Choosing: The End of Forced Union Representation – CPC Analysis
A Catalog of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation – CPC Analysis
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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of Mark Janus, making it unconstitutional for union leaders to compel public employees to pay “fair share fees”.
In anticipation of this decision, union-backed lawmakers in Sacramento have been pushing bills to limit the freedom of government employees to choose whether they can be represented by unions.
Think of these rules as the legislative weapons of the self-declared California Resistance – the reaction of the state’s Democratic super-majority to the November 2016 election victory of Donald Trump. Among the first bills aimed at protecting government union leaders was Senate Bill (SB) 285, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2017. This “union organizing bill” prevents public employers from “deterring or discouraging” their employees to “become or remain a member of an employee organization.” This law authored by state Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) is a clear restriction of free speech as it outlaws public employers from saying anything to its employees that would suggest they have options outside of joining a union.
Enacted that same month, state Sen. Richard Pan’s SB 550 would reimburse unions for their attorney fees whether they win or lose in legal disputes with a public employer. If union leaders sue a public employer over Janus and lose, they’ll walk away without having spent a dime.
Assembly Bill AB 1937, which was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, requires public employers to grant without question the demand of union leaders to collect payroll deductions or fees from non-union members. Introduced by Los Angeles Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, AB 1937 strips employers and employees of the right to determine whether the union can skim paychecks for dues. As Matt Patterson of the California Policy Center says, “public unions have been operating like racketeering syndicates for decades.”
AB 2154, which is still in the Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee, would allow union representatives to take “reasonable time” off for union activities – but still get paid. These “ghost workers” would be subsidized by taxpayers. Then, too, there’s the vagueness: What does reasonable time-off mean? At this point, union-backed Democrats are just molding the law for the convenience of their donors.
The unions may lose at the Supreme Court, but union leaders are doing everything they can to make sure they keep winning in California. How ironic that the same people who claim to fight for worker rights are actively suppressing worker freedom.
Kelly McGee is a summer research assistant at the California Policy Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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By Matt Patterson
What are we getting for our education dollars? Not much, as it turns out.
In fact, while the U.S. outspends most developed nations on education, it consistently lags in student achievement, ranking 24th in science, 38th in math and 24th in reading, according to the Pew Research Center.
How do we explain this distressing phenomenon? Why do our children struggle in school in spite of the vast amounts of money we pour into these institutions?
The answer may be found by looking at the schools which are excelling. Success Academy in New York City, for example, where95 percent of (mostly low-income) students pass math. On the other coast, High Tech Los Angeles graduates 92 percent of its (mostly low-income minority) students, and is ranked among America’s best high schools by U.S. News.
What do schools like these have in common? They are largely free of the poison that is unionization.
Teachers at unionized schools are almost impossible to fire thanks to collective bargaining agreements that forbid performance-based pay and tenure. The result: millions of children languish in classrooms run by teachers with no incentive to perform or to ensure that students perform.
So the children suffer while the union leadership gets rich. (The President of the American Federation of Teachers makes over $400,000 a year in total compensation).
But not in charter schools, which are mostly non-union and are therefore given much more leeway in hiring and firing, merit-pay, tenure, etc. That is the reason they consistently outperform their unionized counterparts in graduation rates, test scores, and nearly every other metric.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has just delivered a decision that may help break the back of the teachers’ unions. In Janus v. AFSCME, the Court ruled that no public employee, including teachers, can be compelled to financially support a union. According to Justice Alito, writing for the majority:
“The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from non-consenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
What does this mean for teachers? It means they can keep their money, money that unions have been spending on left-wing politics for decades.
What does this mean for school districts? It means that the union will have a lot less power to bully themselves budget-busting bargaining agreements.
Most importantly, what does this mean for students? It may, just may, mean that the public schools which have failed them for so long may, at last, be allowed to try and improve.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the winners and losers in the Janus case and what it means for the political makeup of the country. But somewhere there’s a child stuck in a terrible school who doesn’t even know about this decision but who nonetheless may be the biggest winner of all.
Renee Olivett contributed research to this report.
Within days the U.S. Supreme Court is going to issue its ruling on the case Janus vs AFSCME. This case, if the ruling goes as expected, is going to overturn current law that requires public employees to pay union dues.
Here in California, along with a handful of other large, urbanized, very blue states, public-sector unions exercise nearly absolute political control. If a local government or school district passes a reform measure the union doesn’t like, the union-controlled state legislature passes a law to reverse it. If a politician criticizes a union prerogative, that politician is targeted and destroyed in the next election. If a business interest challenges the union, they are targeted with retaliatory legislation and bureaucratic harassment. If the union is successfully challenged in court, the union appeals as many times as necessary to nullify the ruling. They have infinite patience, the deepest pockets, and implacable resolve.
Pundits have claimed Janus will have a seismic impact on public sector union power. That is based on the premise that significant numbers of public employees will withdraw from paying union dues if they have the right. Notwithstanding the possibility that many public servants may appreciate that unions allow them to work less and make more than they would have to in the private sector, what if the bureaucratic process to stop paying dues is rendered so tedious that hardly anyone ever stops?
To that end, union-controlled states have already passed laws to make it very difficult to deny public sector unions their dues revenue. As reported by the Heartland Institute:
“New York recently initiated legislation that would empower unions and undermine states workers’ rights. Under current New York law, government workers who voluntarily join a union have been allowed to withdraw from having to pay the union dues deduction ‘at any time’ by notifying their employer. A new bill would terminate the ‘opt out’ clause and only allow workers to withdraw their dues ‘in accordance with the terms of the signed authorization.’ The Empire Center, a nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Albany, New York warns the proposed bill could force state workers to commit financial support to a union for up to 11 months. Another state following New York’s example is Washington State, where a new law was signed in March that mandates state collection of dues for public sector unions. And another bill in Washington would prohibit public employers from informing employees of their ability to avoid having to pay a union.”
These new laws are consistent with what’s been happening in California. As recently detailed in “A Catalog of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation,” public sector unions have supported the following legislation, much of which has already been enacted:
4 – Making employers pay union legal fees if they lose in litigation but not making unions pay employer costs if the unions lose – SB 550
An excerpt from an email obtained by the California Policy Center shows just how completely these public sector unions can dictate instructions to public employers. As depicted in the screen shot below, this email was sent to all of California’s public agencies that employ members of the California School Employees Association (Union). It was sent on June 19th by the CSEA chief counsel.
As can be read, this email requires a union member to receive union approval to revoke their dues, and prohibits the public agency’s payroll department from ending the dues withholding until the union has notified them. Then the email reminds employers that they cannot talk to “more than one employee about their right to drip union membership,” and recommends the employer “refer them over to CSEA to provide an explanation.” Finally, the bill makes all employee orientation information to remain confidential. This officially bypasses any reform group’s ability to find out about these meetings via a Public Records Act Request, and ensures that the union operatives will control the union membership content of the employee orientation.
This is arrogant language. It is offensive. Who runs our public agencies? Public servants elected by the people, or public sector unions? Nonetheless this communique is typical of how public sector unions have ran California’s state legislature and most of its cities, counties and school districts for decades. And in combination with the other measures – requiring notice of membership cancellation to only be permitted during one brief period each year, and automatically reinstating membership every year even for employees who have quit their union, and others – it is probably wishful thinking to expect a Janus ruling to have a serious impact on California’s public sector union power.
With Janus as a critical prerequisite, however, another landmark case is about to be in the spotlight. Lead plaintiff Ryan Yohn, a California public school teacher, has challenged the rules that require him to “opt out” of union membership. His case, which is still burrowing its way through the lower courts, could very well make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. As reported in The 74, “the California teachers argue that the current opt-out process for those who don’t want to pay dues is overly burdensome and also violates the Constitution. Instead, they maintain, educators who want to join should have to affirmatively opt into the union.”
Public sector unions run California, and make a travesty of democratic ideals. To say that government unions are one of the root causes of America’s deepest challenges is not an overstatement. They are one of the biggest funders of left-wing politicians and activists, enabling the Left to a degree far out of proportion to its actual grassroots support among Americans. They distort the political process to further their own interests. They intimidate and coopt business interests, especially in the financial sector. And they benefit whenever and wherever society fails, and government expands its power and reach in response.
Public sector unions should be illegal. Hopefully a strong ruling in the Janus case, followed by a strong ruling in the Yohn case, will both happen before it’s too late.
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Forty years ago this month, California voters began the modern tax revolt movement that spread across America like wildfire. The idea that citizens could take back control from an overreaching government helped to propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Reagan, who had a close friendship with Howard Jarvis, took his message of limited government to Washington and his message of freedom to the world.
Proposition 13 cut property taxes, put limits on their rise, and toughened the requirements for passing other tax increases. It passed overwhelmingly in June 1978, and ever since, liberals have failed to acknowledge how wrong they were about it — both in terms of politics and policy.
Two months before the vote, California’s then Gov. Jerry Brown (version 1.0), was quoted in the New York Times as saying “I don’t think there is one credible observer who thinks Proposition 13 will endure over the long period.” Forty years later, it’s Brown who is heading into the political sunset while Proposition 13 continues to protect grateful California taxpayers.
So-called “experts” were also wrong in their dire predictions about the harm that would be inflicted on California if Prop. 13 were to pass. One of the TV commercials run by the well-funded opposition campaign featured a doom-saying UCLA economist who predicted that California would be plunged into a deep recession if voters approved the measure. But in the years immediately following passage, California had an extraordinarily booming economy.
Progressives like to perpetuate another falsehood about Prop. 13 in their ceaseless efforts to divide and conquer the taxpayer coalition that supports the law. They seek to target the owners of business properties who, like homeowners, benefit from predictable taxes under Prop. 13. A false argument is advanced that during the 1978 campaign, voters weren’t told that Proposition 13 protections would be extended to business properties as well as homes.
This simply isn’t true. The opponents of Prop. 13 themselves repeated that fact throughout the campaign and, specifically, in the official ballot pamphlet.
Perhaps the granddaddy of all lies about Proposition 13 is how it “destroyed education” in California. This falsehood is repeated so often and with such vigor that it is accepted as established fact by liberal elites and mainstream media. For example, just a couple of weeks ago, Sacramento mayor and former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg blamed Prop. 13 for “years of cutbacks to arts funding in public schools.” This despite record revenues being pumped into education.
To be specific, it is true that just prior to Prop. 13’s passage in the late 1970’s, schools in California were top notch with good facilities, high test scores and competent teachers and administrators. It is also true that, around the same time, education in California began a steep decline. But the cause has not been a lack of revenue. Today California is spending 30 percent more on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis than it did in the mid-70’s. The cause of the decline is the subject of another column, if not a book, but there were two other big changes to the law in the late 1970s: court decisions that redistributed education funding, and legislation granting California teachers the right to unionize and go on strike.
Today’s higher spending on education is mirrored throughout the California government. Property tax revenues have far outstripped population and inflation increases, so it’s not Prop. 13 that has caused the ills that plague California. Waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars on top of heavy-handed tax burdens and overregulation are what’s draining the gold from the Golden State.
Despite a persistent and powerful coalition of tax-raising, big-spending special interests arrayed against us, California taxpayers are prepared to defend Prop. 13 for another 40 years. We have the truth and the facts on our side, and as John Adams observed, “facts are stubborn things.”
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
No state in America is as firmly in the grip of public sector unions as California. For nearly twenty years, union controlled Democrats have exercised nearly absolute power in the State Legislature. Over the past few years, as they have slipped in and out of having a two-thirds majority, and often with the help of a few Republican legislators, they have been able to pass legislation at will, sometimes within days.
Government union power in California derives from their ability to automatically collect over $1.0 billion per year in dues from payroll departments of state and local agencies, combined with their ability to compel well over 1.0 million state and local government employees working within any of their over 6,000 bargaining units to pay these union dues.
While it is legally possible for these government employees to opt out of formal union membership and only pay so-called “agency fees,” the process to opt-out is deliberately rendered tedious and intimidating, and in any case agency fees usually are around 80% of the total dues.
The Janus vs. AFSCME case threatens public sector union power in California and dozens of other states, because, depending on the ruling, it may permit public employees to opt-out of paying any dues at all, including agency fees. But if unions made it difficult and intimidating for government employees to opt-out of paying the full union dues, i.e., if they made it difficult for these employees to get a 20% discount, imagine how difficult they’re going to make it for employees to get a 100% discount.
What the unions can do in Sacramento changes every day. But insofar as a Janus ruling could come down from the US Supreme Court any day, it is appropriate to delve into a bit of wonkiness, and list every recently enacted and pending law, backed by unions, that California’s legislature is compliantly handing down in order to thwart the intent of the Janus plaintiffs.
CALIFORNIA’S ENACTED ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION
AB-83 Collective bargaining: Judicial Council – enacted
This bill permits unionization of Judicial Council staff, something previously off-limits. Here’s what they do, quoted from their website: “The Judicial Council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation. Under the leadership of the Chief Justice and in accordance with the California Constitution, the council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice. Judicial Council staff implements the council’s policies (italics added).” Unionized judicial council staff – what could possibly go wrong?
SB-201 Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act: employees – enacted
This bill permits students who have jobs at the schools they attend to unionize. This will, of course, allow the unions to collect their cut from yet another category of public payroll, but it will also offer them another avenue to indoctrinate students, since they aren’t already getting enough indoctrination from our public schools and universities.
SB-285 Public employers: union organizing – enacted
This goes straight at the heart of Janus. Layering on top of existing federal law but making it even more explicit and restrictive, this bill would prohibit a public employer from deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization. Employers are already forced to be extremely careful how they communicate the pros and cons of unionization, but now they’ll be even more hamstrung, while the unions have full access to employees to argue and advocate their position. Worse, this bill would grant the Public Employment Relations Board jurisdiction over alleged violations of its provisions instead of the courts. This board, PERB for short (see footnotes; “PERB Board”), is stacked with labor activists and is very unlikely to ever rule in favor of a public employer vs. a union.
SB-550 Public school employment: meeting and negotiating: legal actions: settlement offer: attorney’s fees – enacted
In this law, from now on, if a union makes an offer to settle a dispute alleging an employer’s failure to provide wages, benefits, or working conditions, and if the employer does not accept the offer and fails to obtain a more favorable judgment, the employer must pay the union’s attorney’s fees and expenses incurred after the offer was made. Note this “loser pays” provision only applies to the employer, not the union. This legislation puts tremendous pressure on agencies to agree to union demands in order to avoid court, especially those smaller agencies, cities and counties that don’t have deep pockets like the unions.
CALIFORNIA’S PENDING ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION
AB-1937 Public employment: payroll deductions – passed Assembly
This bill appears to be designed to prevent local jurisdictions from enacting measures that might expedite an individual employee’s decision to stop paying union dues. Reading through the introductory text of the bill, here is a key excerpt: “…the bill would authorize employee organizations and bona fide associations to request payroll deductions and would require public employers to honor these requests. The bill would authorize public employers to make rules and regulations for the administration of specified payroll deductions, subject to meeting and conferring with the applicable employee organizations.” Notice that it is the union, not the employee, who will notify the employer to start dues deductions, and notice that any rules the employer may wish to apply to the administration of union dues deductions has to be cleared (meet and confer) with the union.
AB-2017 Public employers: employee organizations – passed Assembly
Similar to SB 285, This bill broadens the definition of employer to “those employers of excluded supervisory employees and judicial council employees.” It then “prohibits a public employer from deterring or discouraging prospective public employees, as defined, from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” The operative words are discourage and deter, which can be quite broadly interpreted. For example, even an employer stating that an employee does not have to join a union might “deter” them from doing so. The intent of this bill is to deter employers from saying anything to employees about unionization, with no such restrictions on the unions.
AB-2049 Classified school and community college employees: payroll deductions for employee organization dues – passed Assembly
Similar to AB 1937, but even more explicit, “this bill would authorize school districts and community colleges to rely on labor unions when determining whether a request to discontinue payroll deductions for union dues is in conformity with the requirements established in the initial payroll deduction authorization.” The intent is to make it harder to get out of paying union dues by adding layers of union bureaucracy to the process.
Concurrent with ensuring the union, and not the agency, has the final say in suspending dues withholding, the unions are revising these “initial payroll deduction authorizations.”
Take a look at this photo of a union contract (below). Note how it states “this authorization shall renew annually, irrespective of my membership status,” and “a revocation must be mailed… postmarked between 75 days and 45 days before such annual renewal date.” There are at least two gotchas here. First, automatic renewal of payroll deductions “irrespective of membership status” means that someone wanting to stop paying union dues has to opt out every year. Second, if they neglect to opt-out, via mail within the exact window of time and in advance of the automatic renewal, they will have to pay dues for another year.
No wonder the unions want themselves, and not the agency, to have the ability to say whether dues will stop being withheld. In any city or county with local elected officials willing to stand up to their unions (admittedly a rare occasion), ordinances could be passed allowing an employee to simply inform their payroll department that they don’t want to pay union dues. That will be impossible under these laws.
The Hotel California Contract – You Can Check In, But Checking Out…
AB-2886 Public Employee Relations Board: Orange County Transportation Authority: San Joaquin Regional Transit District – passed Assembly
Because the above named agencies were not previously required to resolve labor disputes using the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), this bill changes that so they will have to use PERB. By moving the dispute resolution process out of the courts and instead putting them under the jurisdiction of PERB, the unions improve the probability of winning these disputes.
AB-3034 Public transit employer-employee relations: San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District – passed Assembly
This bill, similar in concept to AB 83 and SB 201, allows the unions to collect their cut from yet another category of public payroll, in this case BART supervisors, by allowing them to unionize.
SUMMARY OF ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION
So in response to Janus, California’s unions representing public servants are doing the following:
4 – Making employers pay union legal fees if they lose in litigation but not making unions pay employer costs if the unions lose – SB 550
This catalog of countermeasures to Janus is undoubtedly incomplete. A few enacted in 2017 have probably slipped under our radar, and there will be many more crafted in the coming months and years, especially if there is a strong ruling in favor of the plaintiff. But California’s unions have been doing this for years. Whether it’s charter schools, “release time,” transparency in government, charter cities, public education reform, budget and tax issues, project labor agreements, or pension reform, the agenda of the union always comes first in Sacramento.
When it comes to protecting the government union agenda in California, pro-union legislation is fast and furious, belying the more common political reality of gridlock.
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California’s Public Employment Relations Board – 2018, at least 3-2 stacked for unions
- Arthur A. Krantz “represented unions, employees and nonprofits in litigation, arbitration and administrative cases, and he worked on law reform, organizing, negotiation, and strategic campaigns to effect social change. Krantz did this work as an associate and partner at Leonard Carder, LLP.” San Francisco based Leonard Carder, LLP‘s home page states: “As one of the oldest and most renowned law firms representing labor unions and employees, Leonard Carder’s focus is to provide top-flight legal representation to the labor movement.”
- Priscilla Winslow‘s “career in public sector labor law spans over 30 years, during which time she served for 15 years as Assistant Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association where she litigated and advised on a variety of labor, education, and constitutional law issues.”
- Eric Banks “served in multiple positions at the Service Employees International Union, Local 221 from 2001 to 2013, including Advisor to the President, President, and Director of Government and Community Relations.”
The other two:
- Erich Shiners: “Prior to his service on the Board, Erich Shiners represented and advised public agency employers in labor and employment matters, including many cases before PERB. Most recently he was Senior Counsel at Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.” Liebert Cassidy Whitmore represents itself as California’s preeminent public management employment law firm with over 80 attorneys in five offices.
- Mark C. Gregersen‘s “career in public sector labor relations spans over 35 years. Prior to his appointment to the California Public Employment Relations Board, he has served as director of labor and work force strategy for the City of Sacramento and director of human resources for a number of California cities and counties.”
A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions, February 2018
June 6 marks the 40th anniversary of voters’ overwhelming approval of Proposition 13, which has been protecting all California taxpayers ever since.
Some people mistakenly think Prop. 13 protects only homeowners, because it cut the property tax rate statewide to 1 percent and put a stop to uncontrolled increases in assessed value. But it did something else, too. It required voter approval of local tax increases and set the threshold for approval of special taxes at a two-thirds vote.
For 40 years, big-spending politicians have been looking for loopholes.
Take parcel taxes, for example. A parcel tax sounds like a tax on UPS deliveries, but it isn’t. It’s a tax on real estate parcels. Under Prop. 13, politicians can’t raise property taxes that are based on the value of property, but they figured out that they could add a flat tax to property tax bills if it wasn’t based on value.
Under Prop. 13, two-thirds of voters have to be convinced to approve parcel taxes.
Politicians figured out that the two-thirds threshold would be easier to reach if they exempted a lot of people from having to pay the tax. Certainly people who won’t have to pay a tax are more likely to vote for it. And politicians who vote for the exemptions can say they voted for a tax break, even though they were raising taxes at the time.
An example of this was the Legislature’s action in 2008 to exempt people on Social Security Disability from paying education parcel taxes. HJTA opposed this bill because it undermined the two-thirds vote requirement for parcel taxes established under Prop. 13. The more classes of people who are exempted, the more the two-thirds vote will be watered down, and the easier it is to raise taxes.
Taxpayers are hit twice by the exemption trick. Taxes are raised more often, but the exemptions mean the government receives less revenue. So the likelihood of other taxes being raised to make up the difference in the future is that much greater.
But when something is working for the politicians, it tends to stick around.
Politicians love picking winners and losers. It means power over the lives of others and provides a great source of campaign contributions.
The “progressive” legislators who control California’s government favor government employee union organizations — the most powerful force in Sacramento. Every favor granted to public sector unions is a transfer of wealth from taxpayers and the private sector to government employees and the public sector.
Right now, the Legislature is considering a bill that would exempt teachers and education support staff from paying education parcel taxes. Senate Bill 958, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, was initially a statewide proposal but has been narrowed to target only the Davis Joint Unified School District in Yolo County.
If the politicians are able to pull this off, they’ll be able to do special favors for targeted groups of supporters while raising everybody else’s taxes and setting the stage for even more tax increases in the future.
Not surprisingly, SB958’s supporters include the California Teachers Association. For them, this bill is a win-win. Not only do they get to give their union members a free gift, but they also make it easier to pass taxes with a two-thirds vote.
This is a dangerous path. It’s divisive to award tax breaks based on political affiliation, and there will be no end to it. If the teachers get a tax break, what about the nurses? What about the police and firefighters? Where do the exemptions stop? If public employee unions can effectively raise their own salaries by lobbying for new taxes that their own members won’t have to pay, then our government has been converted into a slot machine. There will be more losers than winners.
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Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
A recent “messaging memo,” issued by “OpportunityAgenda.org,” provides expert marketing advice for activists who hope to mitigate the impact of the much anticipated Janus ruling. In that case, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the expected decision will empower government workers to opt-out of paying any union dues whatsoever. Depending on the details which will be announced any day now, government unions are going to have to – imagine this – ask public employees to join, and will not be able to deduct dues from their paychecks if they refuse.
The stakes are immense. Just in California, government unions collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. Nearly all of this money either funds left-wing political candidates and lobbyists, or funds “education” efforts that promote leftist ideology and policy. But back to this memo.
The memo makes no distinction between government unions which should be illegal, and private sector unions which play a vital role in American society, but regardless of its flawed logic it deserves careful scrutiny. Not only because each of the tips it provides are the product of the finest professionals the left can buy, and are therefore instructive to those who might offer rebuttals, but because “the Opportunity Agenda is a project of the Tides Center,” an organization that offers financial and logistical support for activism that to-date has not been matched by anything on the right.
Which begs the question: With a Janus ruling imminent, who will fund the fight against government unions?
Moreover, the presence of an organization like the Tides Foundation is only one aspect of the strategic advantages accruing to the left. Here are the sources of funds available to left-wing candidates, advocacy groups, and educational organizations:
- Broad based foundation support, with the Tides Foundation among those at the apex.
- Massive contributions from the business community, especially very large multinational corporations.
- Massive contributions from leftist billionaires.
- Billions each year from labor unions, more than 50% of those funds from government unions.
By contrast, right-of-center candidates, advocacy groups, and educational organizations receive far less in foundation support, measurably less from the business community, less – despite perceptions successfully promulgated by leftist propagandists – from individual billionaires, and almost none of the billions that pour in annually to America’s labor unions. Why is this?
First of all because being on the left is not bad for business, unless you are an emerging small business that offers a disruptive innovation. Major corporations enjoy a symbiotic relationship with government bureaucracies and big labor, because they all aspire to become – or remain – monopolistic entities that benefit from more regulations and less freedom. The biggest and most successful lie the left has ever spread is the lie that they are fighting for the ordinary worker, because in reality, now more than ever, the opposite is true.
As they hide behind leftist, “for the people” rhetoric, the agenda of big business and big labor are actually aligned. They are fighting together to lock up production and stifle competition, and the only workers who benefit at all are the ones who are fortunate enough to belong to a union that is embedded in a monopolistic entity. Government unions are the perfect example. And even here, it is only those individuals who are themselves either unwilling or unable to do excellent work in exchange for job security and promotions who are truly the benefactors.
Foundations, for the most part, are funded by major corporations and individual billionaires. Their donations reflect the agenda of their donors. And not only are the inherent interests of big business and big labor aligned, but even those more selfless major corporate and individual donors are usually intimidated by the activists on the left.
Another disadvantage for the right is that even though many corporate donors may have principled objections to socialist regulation of their businesses, their opposition is balkanized. A telecommunications company may fund a multi-faceted fight for appropriate deregulation, as might an energy company, but rarely are these organizations supporting activist groups or educational think tanks that do ongoing, principled work on all the relevant issues.
Instead, most of the right-of-center 501c3 organizations, 501c4 organizations, and political campaigns are either single issue entities that ignore the big picture, or they are single campaign groups that rise up then die on cycles that last no more than 18 months, or they are scratching, clawing perpetual startups that expend more resources on fundraising than on their work. Very few right-of-center policy shops rise above this Hobbesian morass.
Contrast this reality with the work of the Tides Foundation. As reported by the Capital Research Center, “Its vast mountain of money has made the Tides Foundation a powerhouse in left-wing politics, but its role in incubating new organizations is arguably Tides’ greatest achievement for the Left and the Democratic Party. Almost since its inception, Tides has worked to develop new infrastructure for the activist Left through “fiscal sponsorship” of new groups. Over time, those activities—funding and incubating—were split between the Tides Foundation and its 501(c)(3) subsidiary, the Tides Center.”
And how big is this “mountain of money”?
According to InfluenceWatch.org, in 2015 the Tides Foundation spent $166 million, an amount that has likely grown in more recent years. Its funding beneficiaries – exclusively leftist in outlook – included the Alliance for Global Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Climate Reality Project, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, League of Women Voters, National Organization for Women, Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Progress Michigan, SourceWatch, National Council of La Raza, and many others, including Opportunity Agenda.
What percentage of total staff resources might one surmise are spent by these well-established organizations on fundraising? In comparison to right-of-center nonprofits? Which brings us back to Opportunity Agenda. Because if the Tides Foundation routinely pours way over $100 million per year into the coffers of these big organizations, Opportunity Agenda’s approach is to “use a unique combination of communication expertise and creative engagement to help social justice leaders tell a better story, move hearts and minds, and drive lasting policy and culture change.” As a direct project of the Tides Center, Opportunity Agenda does not likely spend a lot of time on fundraising. They are free to hire top talent, and focus on their work.
That work will include mitigating the impact of the Janus ruling. It is potentially the greatest threat that government unions have ever faced, and it’s about time. The damage government unions have done to American democracy is incalculable. Not sure about that? Come to California, where a beleaguered populace works feverishly to pay their bills in the highest taxed, highest cost-of-living state in America. Come to California, where all-powerful, single-party, bloated, unionized state and local governments rack up debt that now totals over a trillion dollars.
Perhaps the activism and educational outreach of the unorganized right is how it should be. Instead of paid armies of union professionals joined with paid armies of professionals working for left-of-center research institutes and think tanks, the right relies primarily on volunteers. Right-of-center organizations with paid employees rely on donations that come and go, and they spend most of their time with their hat in their hands, begging for a few dollars more to keep the lights on for another quarter. That’s noble. Maybe that’s even appropriate. But can they go toe to toe with the leftist juggernaut?
Rest assured, Opportunity Agenda will offer government union locals across the nation lavish access to the “better stories,” as they do everything in their considerable power to prevent government employees from using their new rights under Janus to opt-out of union membership. Against them sails a rag tag fleet of underfunded freedom fighters.
With America’s future hanging in the balance, it is astonishing that these structural deficiencies are not fixed by patriotic Americans with the means to do so.
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In February 2018 the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that challenges the ability of public sector unions to compel public employees to pay agency fees. While public sector employees currently have the ability to opt-out of paying that portion of union dues that are used for political activities, they still have to pay agency fees. This is based on the presumption that all members of a bargaining unit benefit from union negotiations with management, therefore all of them should pay those costs.
The Janus case argues that in the public sector, even these negotiations are inherently political and therefore it would be a violation of the right to free speech to compel any employee to help pay for them. The Supreme Court appears likely to agree. In an unrelated case also affecting unions, this week the US Supreme Court just ruled in favor of employers, affirming that “employers have the right to insist that labor disputes get resolved individually, rather than allowing workers to join together in class-action lawsuits.” The majority opinion was written by newly appointed Justice Gorsuch, reinforcing hopes that he will rule for the plaintiffs in the Janus case.
But will making agency fees optional result in dramatic change?
The potential is there for dramatic change, because as of 2017, 7.2 million government workers belong to a union. Their total membership nearly equals the total membership of private sector unions, 7.6 million, despite federal, state and local government workers only comprising about 17% of the U.S. workforce. In California, state and local government unions are estimated to collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year.
Clearly, a ruling for the plaintiffs in the Janus case will cause a reduction in public sector union dues revenue. If public employees are no longer compelled to pay agency fees, some of them will stop paying them. But how many will stop paying?
A study released this month by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (IEPI) – which based on the composition of its board of directors appears to be sympathetic to unions – estimates that 726,000 public sector union members will no longer pay dues, a drop of around 10%. IEPI’s study also estimates that in California, public sector union membership will decline by 189,000, dropping from an estimated 1,235,000 members in 2017 down to 1,046,000 members. But will California’s public sector union membership really drop by 18%, taking nearly $200 million out of their annual collections?
Other data does support the 18% figure, even indicating it could be higher. A 2018 national survey released by the center-left organization Educators for Excellence posed several questions to teachers on the topic of union membership. For example, when asked “If you were not automatically enrolled into your union membership, how likely would you be in the coming year to actively opt in?” there were only 60% who were “very likely” to opt-in, and only another 22% who were “somewhat likely.”
The survey also asked non-union members – those members who have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues, but still pay agency fees – “If you could, how likely would you be to opt-out of paying agency fees to a union” there were 36% who were “very likely” to opt-out, and another 25% who were “somewhat likely.” How do these responses translate into lost revenue?
According to UnionStats.com, only about 6% of California’s public sector employees who are part of collective bargaining units have opted to become non-members, i.e., only paying the agency fees. Crunching these variables is problematic. Are the e4e national survey results representative of California? Are the responses by teachers in the e4e survey representative of public employees in other sectors? Nonetheless, the e4e survey results do suggest the revenue loss to public sector unions could be greater than the amount predicted by the IEPI study.
For example, if you assume that all of California’s public sector members who were “very likely” to opt out of union membership did so, and half of those who were “somewhat likely” to opt out did so, and if you made a similar set of assumptions based on the survey responses of the non-union members who were employed within collective bargaining units, you would see a public sector union membership in California decline by 320,000, a decline of 26%, from an estimated 1,235,000 members to 915,000 members.
The biggest unknown is the details of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. While all indications so far are that the ruling will be in favor of Janus, what remedies will result? A huge variable will be which party will have to take the initiative. That is, will employees have to approach the unions and request to opt-out of membership, or will the unions have to approach the employees and request them to opt-in to membership? Another huge variable will be how often the opportunity to change membership status be offered. No matter whether union membership is based on employees getting to opt-in or having to opt-out, when will they do that? Once per year, within narrowly specified dates, or perpetually at any time? It is likely the ruling will leave many of these details up to the individual states to decide.
Which brings us back to California, with a state legislature that is a wholly owned subsidiary of public sector unions. As noted in detail (with links to the relevant legislation) in the CLEO policy brief “How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling,” California’s state legislature has been working overtime to circumvent the anticipated Janus decision. In summary:
“So how are the unions preparing for the Janus ruling? By (1) making sure the union operatives get to new employees as soon as they begin working, (2) by preventing agency employers from saying anything to deter new employees from joining the unions, and (3) by preventing anyone else from getting the official agency emails for new employees in order to inform them of their rights to not join a union.”
Public sector employees face a difficult choice. They can accept union representation, knowing that in most cases this results in their receiving over-market pay and benefits, or they can reject union representation, knowing that the agenda of public sector unions is almost always in opposition to the public interest. That’s not easy.
What must be easy, however, is for public employees to have access to whatever information is needed to withdraw from public sector union membership. This way, those who wish to stay true to the ideals of public service can put the interests of the public in front of their personal interests, by knowing how to jump through through whatever bureaucratic hoops the unions and the state legislature may put in their way.
This case constitutes a new challenge for those who oppose public sector unions. Making sure that to whatever extent the Janus ruling liberates public sector employees from the grip of public sector unions, those public employees will know how to realize their freedom, quitting those unions, putting the citizens they serve in front of themselves.
The Janus decision is expected by June 30th, if not sooner.
Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its president through 2016.
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UnionStats.com – Ref. “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment by State and Sector, 1983-2017”
California’s Government Unions Collect $1.0 Billion Per Year – CPC Analysis, May 2015
Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions – CPC Study, June 2012
How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling – CLEO Policy Brief, October 2018