Through the courts and legislation, Americans are telling the unions where to stick their privilege.
Via weak-kneed and corrupt elected officials, unions have been taking advantage of American citizens left and right for years now. But in ever greater numbers, people are standing up to the bullies and fighting back.
“Release time” is a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours, with the taxpayer footing the bill. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. (In some cases, part of the expense of the union worker’s replacement is paid by the union.)
According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this racket has cost the federal government about $1 billion since 1998. Until recently, there has been little pushback against this legalize theft. But that seems to be changing. In Syracuse, NY, Michael Hunter, an outraged taxpayer, is suing the local school district for paying the teachers union president’s salary while she does union work. Megan Root stopped teaching high school in 2008 when she became the full-time president of the Syracuse Teachers Association. Hunter’s lawyer, Cameron McDonald argued that release time is unconstitutional and violates New York’s gift clause, which “prevents municipalities from giving or loaning money to private associations.”
Also, two New Jersey residents are embroiled in a legal dispute with the Jersey City Education Association. They argue that the teacher union president and vice-president – former teachers in Jersey City – should not be accorded the release time perk as it is an “exceptionally generous gift” that serves no public service. Responding to the charge, Tina Thorp, the union vice-president – obviously vying for the “Chutzpah-Comment-of-the-Year” award – stated that “not having district-paid union workers would be ‘disastrously disruptive’ to the education of the district’s 28,000 students and its staff.”
Release time has become a statewide issue in Pennsylvania where the Fairness Center, a public interest law firm, represents several clients currently challenging the practice. Additionally, SB 494, which is making its way through the state legislature, would ban Pennsylvania public school districts “from entering into collective bargaining agreements permitting union leave for teachers that lasts more than three consecutive days or more than 30 days in a school year.” Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, defends the practice, “…the work the union does – empowering teachers and giving them the tools and resources to do their jobs better – ultimately benefits students.” Sure.
Throughout the country, many unions receive another big taxpayer-funded perk by having teachers’ union dues collected by the local school district. The money is deducted from the employee’s monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. The school district then 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 transaction. In fact, payroll deduction is de rigeur for all public employee unions.
Some states have also been fighting back. North Carolina, Alabama, Wisconsin and Michigan have already outlawed the paycheck deductions, and now Texas is trying to follow suit. SB 13 would prevent some state unions from dinging taxpayers by using the state to collect its union dues. Of course the usual histrionics have ensued. One teacher, declaring that she is a lifelong conservative Republican, whined “…it is breaking my heart that I feel attacked by the people that I fought to elect.” The teacher added in her public testimony that “Nobody in the education business supports this bill.”
Hmm. Let’s see. When I signed up with my cell phone provider, I agreed to automatically pay them via credit card every month. It never occurred to me to involve the government in the transaction between Sprint, a private company, and me. The union, also a private entity, could work things the same way, but I guess it’s a whole lot easier to ding the taxpayer with the bill.
And finally we have the case of Marie DaRe, 68, a retired nurse in Garden Grove, CA. who cares for her neurologically-impaired brother. Last August, she joined a union that represents homecare workers for the elderly and disabled. But a month later, after realizing the extent of the union’s political spending, the political independent changed her mind.
DaRe tried to resign from the union but couldn’t; the United Domestic Workers (UDW) wouldn’t let her because, according to its rules, a worker can only leave the union during a ten day window (typically unadvertised) each year. In other words, getting into a union is easy, but like the Roach Motel – getting out is another story. But DaRe, disgusted by the union’s petty rule, filed suit. With the assistance of the Freedom Foundation, a Washington State-based policy organization, she’s claiming the narrow opt-out window violates her rights. (DaRe is still paying dues and must continue to do so till next month.
UDW Executive Director Doug Moore responded with some classic union misdirection. He accused the Freedom Foundation of disempowering caregivers and “going after our workers.” Of course, no one is being disempowered and the Freedom Foundation is not going after your workers, Mr. Moore; they are trying to help one of your workers not be one of your workers.
As these cases show, the ridiculous privileges that unions have become accustomed to are slowly but surely being whittled away.
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.