Myths the Union Organizer Tells Us
Socialist teacher union honcho’s distortions about union political spending and “labor peace” are, well, par for the course.
Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers, has written a bizarre piece for In These Times in which he claims that “the Friedrichs v. Calif. Teachers Association SCOTUS Case Could Actually Be a Boon for Unions.” His overarching point is more than a bit arcane, but it’s safe to say he thinks that the case – which, if successful, would make public employee union participation optional nationwide – could cause major chaos that the unions would somehow be able to use to their advantage.
Richman, an acknowledged socialist who prefers to be called “Comrade” (or more informally “Cde.”), may not know where Friedrichs will lead, but he offers a treasure trove of distortions in plotting out his incoherent scenario.
First, we start with a half-truth. Comrade Richman grouses, “Currently, unions that are certified to represent a group of employees in a bargaining unit are legally compelled to represent all of the employees in that unit. That means not just bargaining on their behalf, but expending significant resources on grievances, meetings, communications and everything else that goes into running a union.” Left out is that “exclusive representation” was not something foisted on the unions; it is something that all unions have demanded for the last 80 years. So you really can’t whine about being forced to do something that you have lobbied hard to attain.
Cde. Richman then warns, “…exclusive representation is essential to labor peace.” I cringe every time I read or hear the words “labor peace.” This wretched little term was used in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Abood decision that the Friedrichs lawyers hope to overturn. To me, the words summon up an image of a mafia thug telling the new storeowner in the neighborhood, “You want peace? Here are some envelopes to use for your monthly payments. You have such a nice little store. I’d hate to see anything happen to it.” Labor peace my foot.
Another bit of propaganda from Cde. Richman regarding Friedrich’s “right-wing argument,”
But union membership, including the payment of dues, is completely voluntary. That’s why unions negotiate agency fees into contracts. These fees are calculated through complicated formulas to only represent the true cost of bargaining representation. Agency fees do not pay for things like political activity (unions usually have separate voluntary political funds.
That’s the standard narrative, but it’s far from the whole story. As Mike Antonucci points out, if a union sends a mailer advising members to vote for Candidate X, it can be chalked up as “member communication,” not political spending. The unions are also quite gifted in the phenomena of so called “dark money” – political spending by groups whose own donors are allowed to remain hidden. So again, the unionista is playing very loose with the facts.
Then comes a truly jaw-dropping whopper from Cde. Richman: “Unions are politically cautious and loath to wade into non-economic controversies for fear of alienating a segment of their bargaining unit.” What?! Is it minutely possible that Cde. Richman does not know about teacher union spending habits? Is he not aware that teacher union elites are invariably far left of center and spend heavily to advance their agenda? As RiShawn Biddle notes, the Democracy Alliance, Progress Now, Progressive Inc., Media Matters, et al are heavily funded by the National Education Association. The unions have also been involved with same-sex marriage advocacy, blocking photo ID requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain.
In fact, its latest filed labor report shows that NEA spent $131 million on politics in 2014-2015 – and believe me, the Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity and Focus on the Family didn’t see a penny of the union’s largess.
Richman is on the money about one thing, though. He writes, “…if agency fee is compelled speech, then the duty of exclusive representation imposed on unions is also compelled speech.” Bingo! If I don’t want to have to be in a union, the union should have no obligation to represent me. In fact, it would be immoral for me to insist on a service that I was not willing to pay for. But Comrade Richman, once again, exclusive representation is a union-demanded convention. If unions should decide they don’t want to represent non-payers, that would be the fairest solution for all concerned.
That’s the kind of “labor peace” I could really get behind.
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.