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Teacher Union Political Spending: Liberal as Ever

AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.

The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.

Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.

And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:

aft-pays-to-play

Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….”  (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)

So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.

A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.

For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.

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.

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.

Bain Explained

Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to challenge teacher union hegemony.

For the third time in three years, a lawsuit has been filed in California that challenges the way the teachers unions do business. In May 2012, eight California public school children filed Vergara et al v. the State of California et al in an attempt to “strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers.” Realizing that some of their most cherished work rules were in jeopardy, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) chose to join the case as defendants in May 2013.

But three days before they signed on to Vergara, the unions were targeted again. On April 29, 2013, the Center for Individual Rights filed suit on behalf of ten California teachers against CTA and the National Education Association (NEA). The Friedrichs case challenges the constitutionality of California’s agency shop law, which forces public school educators to pay dues to a teachers union whether they want to or not.

Now in April 2015, the teachers unions are facing yet another rebellion by some of its members. Bain et al v. CTA et al, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. It challenges a union rule concerning members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. Contrary to what many believe, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition of employment in California, but they are forced to pay dues. Most pay the full share, typically over $1,000 a year, but some opt out of paying the political or “non-chargeable” part, which brings their yearly outlay down to about $600. However, to become “agency fee payers,” those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish most perks they had by being full dues-paying members. And this is at the heart of Bain. As EdSource’s John Fensterwald writes,

Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech. About one in 10 teachers in California have opted out of paying the portion of dues supporting politicking and lobbying.

In addition to losing various types of insurance, the affected teachers also give up the right to vote for their union rep or their contract, the chance to sit on certain school committees, legal representation in cases of employment disputes, death and dismemberment compensation, disaster relief, representation at dismissal hearings and many other benefits.

The question becomes, “Why should a teacher lose a whole array of perks just because they refuse to pay the third or so (it varies by district) of their union dues that go to political causes?”

That very sensible question summons up a great number of erroneous statements, hysteria, lies and general panic among the mainstream media and unionistas alike. Let’s examine a few of them starting with a partial-truth from the estimable John Fensterwald. He wrote, “Both the CTA and CFT are obligated to negotiate contracts dealing with pay, benefits and working conditions on behalf of union and non-union teachers.” That’s true; all teachers do indeed become “bargaining unit members.” However, that is only because the unions insist on exclusive representation. The unions would have a case here if teachers were free to negotiate their own contracts, but they aren’t allowed to. (For more on this issue, see my back-and-forth with CFT VP Gary Ravani in the comments section of Fensterwald’s piece.)

A Los Angeles Times editorial claims that the case at its core is “an attack on the power of any public employee union to engage in politics.” How they came up with that assessment defies logic. If Bain is successful, unions will still be free to “engage in politics.” It is true that more teachers may opt out of the political part, thus leaving the union with fewer coerced dollars to spend. But to say it is an “attack” is a great exaggeration.

Alice O’Brien, general counsel for NEA, said in a statement, “The Bain lawsuit attacks (there’s that word again) the right of a membership organization to restrict the benefits of membership to those who actually pay dues.” What?! The teachers in question are all dues payers and will still be dues payers if their case is successful.

Never one to be subtle, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claims that the lawsuit is “part of a siege against unions by StudentsFirst.” (Before starting StudentsFirst, Rhee – now departed – was Washington, D.C. school chancellor, where she and Weingarten tangled constantly.) In a statement Weingarten said, “This is the same group that has worked for five years to stifle the voices of teachers, and strip them of collective bargaining and other rights and tools to do their jobs.” Then as if to clarify this baseless statement, she added, “The suit cites political activity on issues it considers unrelated to education – like gun control, for example.”

The Friedrichs case, with a possible Supreme Court decision next year, is much further along than Bain. If the former case is successful, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the latter. Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political and therefore joining should be voluntary. If it flies, teachers will have an option to join the union or refrain from doing so. That could take the wind out of Bain’s sails as there will probably not be the two tiers or classes of membership that there are now. If all dues are political and you join the union, then all fees will be chargeable and teachers couldn’t then opt out of the political portion because all of it would be political. However, should Friedrichs fail, Bain will be all the more important.

Other scenarios are possible, with the courts, of course, having the final say on how it all gets sorted out.

In any event, the teachers unions’ heavy-handed political arm-twisting would seem to be in jeopardy and their days of unbridled power numbered. And that can only be good news for teachers, students, parents and taxpayers.

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.

Acquiescent Teachers and Their Undemocratic Unions

Teachers who are not satisfied with their union must make their voices heard. 

Are Unions Democratic? The Internal Politics of Labor Unions and Their Implications, a report just released by the Manhattan Institute’s Daniel DiSalvo, examines unions – specifically the public employee variety, with an emphasis on teachers unions.

Addressing the democracy issue, he writes:

Unfortunately, much evidence suggests that unions are, in the vast majority of cases, only superficially democratic. A review of the existing literature shows that:

  • Very few members vote in standard union-leadership elections (turnout is often below 20 percent; in one recent New York City public-sector union election, turnout was 4 percent).
  • Those who do vote are not representative of the membership as a whole (with older workers voting at higher rates, thus skewing, for example, union policies on the importance of pensions relative to wages).
  • Incumbent leaders often go unchallenged for long periods, sometimes “anointing” chosen successors (who then anoint another generation) instead of fostering genuine contests.
  • Unions, especially at the state and national level, often take political positions with which a substantial number of members disagree (thus forcing those members to pay, with their dues, for the advocacy of policies that they do not support).

DiSalvo ends by pointing to reforms that unions should adopt which would bring the “practice of union democracy in line with the values of American society and the spirit of the law.” The following are his recommendations for federal, state, and local governments:

  1. Require unions to publicize electoral procedures and report election returns. In particular, unions should report the names of the candidates for various offices; whether members voted in person, by phone, electronically, or postal mail; and the number of members who voted, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage.
  2. Require unions to adopt online voting systems, thereby eliminating cumbersome barriers to voting (such as traveling to the union hall to cast a ballot); improving transparency; speeding the dissemination of election results; and reducing the costs of holding elections.
  3. Stop requiring union members to pay for advocacy that they do not support. Specifically, public-sector unions need to formalize their political decision-making by holding referenda to gauge their members’ policy preferences more precisely. The results of these referenda should be made public.

The irony of these proposed legislative actions is that they are unlikely to see the light of day because the unions throw their considerable political heft around and effect legislation locally, on the state level and in D.C. And even if his first fix was to become a reality, I’m not sure it would accomplish much. Information like this would get buried in an email that few would read. His second suggestion is certainly reasonable and in fact has been adopted by the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Number three gets into some interesting territory. DiSalvo says the union should hold referenda to gauge the political preferences of its rank-and-file. (The unions will counter that this is not necessary. The California Teachers Association’s political decisions are made by their State Council, an elected governing body, though in reality few members ever know exactly who is running, what they stand for and where and when the elections are.) DiSalvo also says that the results of the referenda should be made public. In fact, there is information along those lines that is readily available. Former National Education Association president Reg Weaver on more than one occasion has said publicly that his union breaks down as one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third “Other.” Mike Antonucci reports that a 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are actually slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” And at a panel in which I was a participant in 2013, CTA president Dean Vogel claimed that his union membership is 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican.

Granted none of the above numbers constitutes referenda, but the union elites are well aware that a significant percentage of their members are not on the left and clearly they don’t care. Almost all union spending goes in that direction. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And the American Federation of Teachers is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right-of-center candidates.

Here in the Golden State, CTA is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Democrats and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 and just about every penny of it went in a leftward direction.

Which brings us to the unions’ ATMs: their teachers. As DiSalvo reports,

… in a national survey of 3,328 teachers who were asked about their participation in union affairs, about half said that they were ‘not at all active’ or ‘not very active.’ Other research shows that the typical union member hardly participates in union activities … Such evidence suggests that few public employees exert pressure on their organizations in any significant way. (Emphasis added.)

And just what is the best way to exert that pressure?

The best thing a right-of-center, independent or apolitical teacher can do to make a statement is to stop paying the political share of his or her dues, resigning from the union to do so. They will have to give up a few minor perks, but those can be easily be recouped by joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators. The new “agency fee payer” will get a refund for the monies that the union claims it spends on politics. I know many in the profession are afraid to emerge from the union womb, but they need to rise above it and make their dissatisfaction known.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer alternative. While CTA claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans, only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The NEA numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of its 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

Those disgruntled teachers who insist on staying in the union should go to meetings and make their views known. They’ll find other members who agree with them (more than you might think) and can run for positions of power within the union.

Granted, withholding more political money and raising hell at union meetings may not achieve all or even most of the results that DiSalvo seeks. But millions of dollars less to spend on their pet causes and an active militant minority might just make union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – more responsive to those they purportedly represent.

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 One-Way Political Spending of the Teacher Unions

Teacher union political gifting continues to be almost exclusively leftward bound, but teachers don’t have to finance it.

Courtesy of campaign-finance tracker Open Secrets, we have a reminder of how lopsided teacher union political spending is. Education Week’s Lauren Camera posted a report Friday which spells out some of the nasty details.

In House of Representative races during the 2014 election cycle, the American Federation of Teachers gave $1.4 million to Democrats, compared to just $5,000 to Republicans. The National Education Association donated $857,550 to Democrats and $59,500 to Republicans. In Senate races AFT gave $210,000 to Dems and GOPers got zero. NEA sent $168,750 to Senate Democrats, while Republicans scored a piddling $3,000. 

Sadly, these numbers are not outliers but typical of teacher union spending. From 1989-2014, NEA sent only 4 percent of its donations to Republicans, and rest assured that the few bucks they tossed at the right never wound up anywhere near any Tea Party types. Additionally, NEA has lavished gifts on such leftist stalwarts as MALDEF, People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Center for American Progress. 

Here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Dems and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. CTA also spends millions on controversial, non-education-related liberal causes such as establishing a single-payer health-care system, expanding the government’s power of eminent domain, instituting same-sex marriage and blocking photo ID requirements for voters. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 (more than double the amount of any other special interest) and just about every penny of it went in the usual leftist direction.

But this must be what teachers want, right? Aren’t the great majority of teachers liberal?

In a word, “No.”

In fact, according to Mike Antonucci, an internal NEA poll revealed, 

NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members ‘are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.’ (Emphasis added.) 

While teachers in 26 states have to pay the union in order to teach in a public school, many are unaware that every year they can withhold several hundred dollars in dues money that the union would spend on politics. Needless to say, the unions don’t advertise the fact that teachers do indeed have any choice. 

Next week is National Employee Freedom Week which is a nation-wide effort to inform unionized employees about their union membership options. If you are conservative, libertarian, centrist or apolitical and are tired of bankrolling your union’s pet political causes, maybe it’s time to just say no. For information on how to do that, please go to the California Teachers Empowerment Network website.

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.

I Know Nothing! Nothing!

By meekly surrendering paycheck deductions on a monthly basis, teachers are complicit in their unions’ policy making and politicking.

In a great majority of cases across the country, when teachers get work in a public school, they join the teachers union. Or, more accurately, they join three of them. There’s the “local,” whose responsibility is to make sure that teachers have favorable work rules. At the same time, they join a state affiliate. In California, that usually is the California Teachers Association, which essentially runs the state legislature and works to ensure that teachers have job protections unknown to most of humankind. (Not for nothing does the union think of themselves as the fourth branch of government.) Then finally, there’s the national affiliate, which is usually the National Education Association, the biggest and most powerful union – and political entity – in the country. Many teachers don’t even realize that they are in (and paying “unified” dues to) three different unions.

According to a recent post by Mike Antonucci, the National Education Association has discovered it has an apathy problem (especially with younger teachers) and that the union feels it is disconnected from its members.

In the wake of persistent membership losses, the National Education Association began a review of its organizational structure in an effort to improve efficiency and cut costs. Part of the project included a survey of NEA’s board of directors, state affiliate officers, Representative Assembly delegates and rank-and-file members.

The survey response rate itself suggested a problem. Thirty-eight percent of those holding an elected position responded, but only 10 percent of the rank-and-file did so. Since part of the survey sought to gauge member involvement, NEA was not off to a roaring start.

very few members had any contact whatsoever from a union rep above the local level.

…it is difficult to generate outrage on behalf of the rank-and-file, since they seem to be perfectly content – especially the younger members – with their lack of contact with NEA at any level. This is causing much consternation at NEA, but not much among young teachers.

Antonucci then quotes a union leader in California,

Some members do not know what NEA does and some don’t even know that they are NEA members!

Antonucci concludes that,

Both supporters and opponents of the teachers’ unions should learn from this. Ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members should not be criticized for the actions of their union, nor should they be expected to defend those actions. Chances are they haven’t a clue what the union above the local level is up to. At the same time, the unions can’t use ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members as a shield against criticism of the union’s actions. Very little of NEA’s agenda was created by popular demand, or even created with popular knowledge. (Emphasis added.)

Sorry, but teachers shouldn’t be let off the hook for their ignorance and apathy. In California, teachers on average pay over $1,000 per year in dues to their three unions. Of that total, $182 goes to NEA and $647 to CTA, with the remainder staying at the local level. Do they have a clue where all that money goes? Do they not care that their union may be using their dues money to promote political causes they might find abhorrent? Why are they so apathetic about paying the union maybe $30,000 during their careers?

Beyond passivity, teachers, you essentially have three participation options:

1. If you like your unions, get out and support them, vote in their elections and learn where your dues are being spent. If you like their education policies and the direction in which they throw their massive political heft, stand up and get involved to ensure that your “rights” will never be attenuated.  (If you like their education policies but not their far left politicking – think ACORN, Rainbow PUSH, Center for American Progress et al – consider withholding part of your dues and becoming an agency fee payer. To find out just where your union’s political spending goes, check out the latest NEA and AFT Department of Labor financial reports.)

2. If you believe that teachers unions are important to your professional career but think that their policies are misguided, start going to meetings and make your opinions known. If you get a following, good for you! If you are insulted, dismissed or shouted down, you might want to think about why you are paying money to this group in the first place. And importantly, learn where your dues money is going.

3. But if you feel that your rights are being violated by having to pay money to any entity you despise or think is wrong-headed, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Again, learn where your dues money is going. Then think about firing or “decertifying” your union and joining a non-union alternative like the Association of American Educators or Christian Educators Association International. In fact, a “decert” was just carried out in Kansas.

Teachers in a small, southwest Kansas school district have decertified from the state’s main teachers union, the fifth group of teachers to do so in the past year.

Teachers at Spearville Unified School District 381, near Dodge City, voted to leave the Kansas National Education Association on Wednesday, said the Association of American Educators, the KNEA’s non-union rival.

Decertifying means the teachers no longer negotiate their annual contracts through a KNEA local. Instead, they may create a bargaining unit that is unaffiliated with state or national unions, for example.

Then there is a group of fed-up teachers in California who are suing NEA, CTA and various locals. (CA – like 25 other states and D.C. – is a non-right-to work state, which means that, except in very rare circumstances, a teacher must pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. As I wrote last summer about Friedrichs et al v. CTA, NEA et al.,

California law does allow for “mandatory monopoly bargaining,” which means, where public education is concerned, that teachers must pay dues or “fees” to a labor union in order to work at a public school. Teachers may “resign” from the union, which frees them from paying the portion of their dues that would be spent for politics. They’re still required, though, to pay an “agency fee” for other union services, such as collective bargaining—whether they want those services or not….

The rationale for collective-bargaining fees is that even nonmembers benefit from collective bargaining; there should be no “free riders.” But the line between what counts as a “chargeable” fee and what constitutes outright political activity has become blurrier over the years. As the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue, unions use their power “to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining.”

As examples, the lawyers note that union leaders deemed a recent Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) conference and expensive staff junkets to be “predominantly chargeable.”

Thus, the teacher-plaintiffs are asking the court to “declare that California’s practice of forcing non-union members to contribute funds to unions, including dues to support their collective-bargaining activities, violates the First Amendment, and enjoin Defendants [the union] from enforcing this unconstitutional arrangement.” The legal terrain for this argument is more favorable than it has ever been, thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings.

In the 1960s TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” when the buffoonish German Col. Schultz insisted that he knew nothing, the humor was obvious. Here, not so much. Teachers, by tacitly forking over your dues to a union year after year, you are supporting their educational, political and social agenda. Are you sure that is something you really want to do?

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Teachers can receive a $300 – $400 ‘rebate’ for CTA’s political spending

Although California is not a right-to-work state, public school teachers have the ability to receive a yearly rebate of $300 – $400 from the California Teachers Association.

Teachers have these options because the United States Supreme Court has held that a union can’t force a non-union member to pay for the union’s political and other activities unrelated to bargaining and representing workers.

A teacher’s ability to exercise these options is limited, however, and the necessary paperwork must be sent to CTA by November 15. (All teachers in LA Unified and those represented by the California Federation of Teachers have different rules and information is available on CaliforniaTeacherFreedom.com.)

First, if teachers are CTA members, they must leave the union. A generic resignation letter is available here. Teachers only have to opt out of CTA one time.

Next — and this must be done yearly — those who have opted out must submit written notice to CTA between September 1 and November 15 requesting a “rebate” for the portion of their dues that goes to political and other non-chargeable activities. This rebate is usually between $300 – $400, depending on a teacher’s local school district. A generic rebate-request letter is available here.

Alternatively, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensures that workers with a strong moral objection to the union or its activities, like union support of abortion or gay marriage, can become a religious objector and redirect their union dues to a charitable organization. If a teacher wants to become a religious or conscientious objector, a how-to guide is available from National Right to Work and free legal assistance is available by contacting NRTW’s Bruce Cameron at bnc@nrtw.org. Teachers wishing to become religious objectors should not request to become agency fee payers.

Because teachers are busy teaching from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15 and most don’t even know these options are available, it’s important to remind teachers of some of the reasons other teachers are exercising these options.

Reason 1: CTA spends hundreds of millions of dues dollars on politics

Many teachers believe that the $1,000 they pay in union dues only pays for education-related activities. Nothing could be further from the truth, as CTA spends hundreds of millions of dollars from member dues on politics.

Since 2000, CTA has spent over $290 million on political campaigns and lobbying. That’s more than twice as much as California’s next largest special interest group, the Service Employees International Union, and more than five times as much as the California Chamber of Commerce.

Former CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett has stated that the only reason CTA was founded “was to engage in politics” and that  “[y]ou bet we’re going to play in politics.”

Reason 2: It would save you $300 – $400 a year

For CTA officials, $400 represents around 1/1000 of a percent of their recent political donations and lobbying expenditures.

Imagine what you would do with an extra $400. Would you spend it on Christmas presents for your kids? Make a car payment? Book an extra getaway for your family? Save it?

Teachers can spend their own money better than union bosses wanting to “play in politics.”

Reason 3: CTA supports issues many members oppose and/or find morally objectionable

For instance, CTA donated over $1.2 million to oppose Proposition 8, which sought to preserve the traditional definition of marriage and supports only “pro-choice” candidates.

Recently, former CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett bragged: “In California, and with the support of CTA, we have fought back three attempts to curtail a woman’s right to choose … Currently, California is one of only 10 states that have no additional restrictions on reproductive health.”

This year, CTA also supported a just-passed bill that allows high school boys to shower in girls’ locker rooms.

Every CTA member is also a dues-paying member of the National Education Association, which is currently supporting a federal gun-control bill and pushing to start sex education in kindergarten.

Reason 4: Alternative professional educator associations offer better benefits for less

CTA tells teachers that a real benefit of joining is employment liability coverage that reimburses teachers for legal costs if they are ever sued. Naturally, teachers like knowing they are protected financially from lawsuits by disgruntled parents or students.

What teachers often miss, however, is that comparable or even better insurance and benefits than CTA offers are available from national, non-partisan, professional-educator associations. The Association of American Educators (AAE) and Christian Educators Association International are two such groups. For only $15 a monthAAE provides each member a $2 million liability insurance policy, legal protection and supplementary insurance options.

How to proceed

First, if you are currently a CTA member, you need to request to become an agency fee payer instead. A generic letter requesting to become an agency fee payer is available here. You only need to take this step once.

Next — and you must do this every year between September 1 and November 15 — you can get a “rebate” of your money that CTA would otherwise spend on politics by sending written notice to:

Agency Fee Rebate
CTA Membership Accounting Department
P.O. Box 4178
Burlingame, California 94011-4178

generic rebate request letter, including CTA’s address, is available here.

To ensure receipt of your letters we recommend sending them Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested Signature and making and keeping a copy of your letters for your records.

For teachers who have a strongly held religious beliefs opposing CTA’s support for things like gay marriage or abortion and want to become religious objectors, a how-to guide is available from National Right to Work and free legal assistance is available by contacting NRTW’s Bruce Cameron at bnc@nrtw.org. Teachers wishing to become religious objectors should not request to become agency fee payers.

CTA teachers in LA Unified or CFT teachers should visit CaliforniaTeacherFreedom.com to learn how to get their rebate.

Larry Sand is a retired teacher and president of the California Teacher Empowerment Network.  Ed Ring is executive director of the California Public Policy Center. For more, visit http://CaliforniaTeacherFreedom.com and .

Employee Freedom Week – Know Your Rights

California is a forced unionism state, meaning that once a collective bargaining unit is recognized by an employer, it’s pretty hard for any employee to avoid paying union dues. But even in forced unionism states, employees have rights. “National Employee Freedom Week” was initiated in Nevada last year by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, and this year they have been joined by 60 organizations to spread information on employee rights across the U.S.

It isn’t easy to assert your rights as an employee in a unionized workplace, especially in California. Any attempt to limit union involvement typically requires “opt-out” action. That is, an unionized employee will automatically pay all membership dues, including those used to fund political contributions, unless they actively initiate action to assert their rights. In most cases, members are only permitted to take these actions to opt-out during a limited few weeks each year. Members of the California Teachers Association, for example, can only request a rebate of the political portion of their dues between Sept. 1st and November 15th, and they have to resubmit their request every year (more on rights of CTA members here).

Here are two fundamental rights employees of unionized workplaces still have in California, and suggestions on how to exercise those rights:

(1) They can refuse to pay for the union’s political activity. To do this, an employee must request to become an “agency fee payer,” which means they only pay dues for the union’s cost of collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment. As an agency fee payer, a unionized employee will not have to pay for any other activities, including the union’s political activities.

An agency fee payer is not a member of the union, but since they continue to pay the “representative” portion of their dues, the union must continue to represent them fairly and without discrimination in all matters subject to collective bargaining.

As an agency fee payer, employees are still entitled to every benefit under the labor contract with their employer, including health care, pension, step increases, etc.

A generic letter to become an agency fee payer is here. You will need your union’s address and contact information. We recommend that you make a copy of your letter and either deliver it in person and receive a stamped copy or mail it with Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested Signature. This protects you in case, a union boss “loses” your letter. We also recommend sending a copy of the letter to your employer’s payroll department.

Although the generic agency fee payer letter includes text noting that your objection is continuing and permanent, some unions will not respect this and will make you annually resubmit your refund request.

For a smooth exit, you may have to leave during specific opt-out timeframe or “window.” Ask your union for a copy of your signed enrollment form to determine when your window is.

Download a generic agency fee payer letter.

(2) They can become a religious or conscientious objector.

If you would like to become a religious or conscientious objector, go to ChooseCharity.org and complete a simple application process that requires no additional out-of-pocket costs.

Once the application is submitted, the ChooseCharity legal staff will take care of the rest of the process.

If you become a religious or conscientious objector, your full dues equivalent will be deducted but made payable a charitable fund exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Code. You will not be a member of the union, but are still entitled to every benefit under the labor contract with your employer, including health care, pension, step increases, etc.

If you think you may want to become a religious or conscientious objector, it is important that you do not request to be an agency fee payer.

Non-union alternatives:

For Teachers:

Association of American Educators (AAE) – $15 per month membership

Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) – $239 annual membership

More Information About Your Rights

All Employees:

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

ChooseCharity.org

Workplace Fairness Institute

Your Rights (Center for Union Facts)

Unions and Union Dues (American Center for Law and Justice)

For Teachers:

Teacher Rights (AAE)

Coalition of Educators Against Forced Unionism

California Teacher Empowerment Network

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EmployeeFreedomWeek

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Workers of the World, Your Rights!

A week in June is being promoted to advise workers of their right to opt out of union membership.

Unknown to many employees throughout the country – especially in non-right-to-work states – they have a right to not belong to a union. This year, June 23rd – 29th is being dedicated to informing America’s wage earners of their union membership options. This project, National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), is spearheaded by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) and the Association of American Educators (AAE).

The idea for this undertaking came about in the summer of 2012 when NPRI, a non-partisan think tank based in Las Vegas, launched a small-scale campaign to let local teachers know that they could opt out of their union, the Clark County Education Association, by submitting written notice from July 1st to July 15th.

The reaction was stunning. Teachers thanked NPRI for sharing that information. Hundreds of teachers wanted to leave CCEA, each for their own unique reasons, but didn’t know it was possible or forgot because of the narrow and inconvenient drop window. Empowered by the information NPRI shared, over 400 teachers opted out by submitting written notice and over 400 more left CCEA and weren’t replaced by a union member.

The U.S. is comprised of 24 “right-to-work” states which grant workers a choice whether or not to belong to a union. In the other 26 and Washington, D.C., they don’t have to belong but must still pay the portion of union dues that goes toward collective bargaining and other non-political union-related activities. The dissenters who select this “agency fee” option typically do so because they don’t like that about one-third of their dues goes for political spending. Even though over 40 percent of union households vote Republican, over 90 percent of union largess goes to Democrats and liberal causes. (There is an exemption for religious objectors; if an employee is successful in attaining that status, they don’t have to pay any money to the union, but must donate a full dues share to an approved charity.)

As president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, I am well aware of teachers’ frustrations. We have been providing information to educators about their rights since 2006, and thousands have exercised their right to resign from their teachers union in the Golden State. It is important to note that different unions in different states have specific opt-out periods during which a worker can exercise their right to leave. In many states, one not only has to resign, but also must ask for a rebate of the political portion of their dues every year during a specified – and frequently very narrow – window of time.

To be clear, NEFW is not about denying anyone the right to belong to a union, but rather about letting employees know their options and providing them with facts that they can use to make an informed decision. Unions are threatened when workers choose to opt out, and typically accuse dissidents of being “free riders” or freeloaders. But, if employees don’t want the services that the union has to offer, they have no choice but to accept them because the union demands exclusivity. As I wrote recently, quoting Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk,

Unions object that right-to-work is actually “right-to-freeload.” The AFL-CIO argues “unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those who don’t contribute financially toward the expenses incurred by providing those protections.” They contend they should not have to represent workers who do not pay their “fair share.”

It is a compelling argument, but untrue. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate unions exclusively represent all employees, but permits them to electively do so. (Emphasis added.) Under the Act, unions can also negotiate “members-only” contracts that only cover dues-paying members. They do not have to represent other employees.

The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on this point. As Justice William Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, the Act’s coverage “is not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees … ‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.”

As Sherk says, while unions don’t have to represent all employees, they do so voluntarily to eliminate any competition. So instead of “free rider,” a better term would be “forced rider.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

One final thought: If unions are so beneficial for workers – as they keep telling us – why must they force people to pay for their service?

I never have received a response to that question. Maybe because there is no good answer. Something for all of us to ponder during National Employee Freedom Week.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Combating Union Misinformation

Getting the facts to people who have been lied to for decades is essential for change.

In my latest City Journal post, I argue in favor of an initiative that will be on the ballot in California in November.

Proposition 32, which will appear on the November general-election ballot, would ban unions and most corporations from making direct contributions to state and local candidates. The measure would also bar government contractors from contributing to political campaigns. The most significant provision, though – the one giving public-employee unions, especially the California Teachers Association, fits – would prohibit corporations, unions, and government employers from deducting money from workers’ paychecks to use for political purposes.

Chris, a commenter to my article, dismissed my argument, claiming that,

It is very easy to opt-out of the payroll deductions, which amount to about 6 dollars a year per teacher.

When I read such comments, I have to wonder where Chris gets his misinformation. Assuming he isn’t pulling it out of a hat, he is getting it from someone he trusts, very probably his local teachers union. And, sad to say, there are many thousands of Chris’s who form opinions and vote on erroneous data. It brought back bad memories from 2005 when Prop. 75, the last paycheck protection initiative on the ballot, sought to ban “the use by public employee labor organizations of public employee dues or fees for political contributions except with the prior consent of individual public employees each year on a specified written form.” The prop was popular early in the campaign, but after CTA blasted ads over the summer in which they spouted lie after lie and managed to scare teachers (and the general public), it was voted down. Infuriated that CTA’s deceitfulness and demagoguery were so readily believed, I cofounded the California Teachers Empowerment Network in 2006.

Anyway, back to Chris and his $6 figure. The truth is quite different. Throughout California, almost all teachers belong to three unions – their local, a state affiliate (usually CTA) and a national union (usually NEA). Dues vary from year to year and in 2011-2012, teachers’ union dues broke down this way:
NEA – $178
CTA – $647
Local – varies (typically $200-$300)

What many California teachers don’t know is that they don’t have to belong to a union. By resigning from the union (and losing voting privileges and liability insurance) a teacher becomes what’s called an agency fee payer. As such, the teacher still has to pay the union the full dues amount, but can get a yearly rebate for monies that the unions “claim” they spend on politics. (I say “claim” because it is generally understood that the unions spend much more on politics than they admit to. In addition, there are many gray-area expenditures, like if a teachers union sends members a letter telling them to vote for a certain state assemblyman, the cost of the mailer and the postage don’t get counted as political spending, but rather as communication costs.)

What can someone who resigns from the union expect in the way of a rebate? As an example, the following rebate percentages were furnished by Sacramento-area teacher-blogger Darren Miller.
NEA – 56%
CTA – 28.6%
Local – 28.6%

This means, for example, that Miller, an agency fee payer, got back 28.6% of his CTA dues which amounted to $185 (28.6% of $647.) Same principle holds for NEA and his local. Hence, he received a rebate check last year for $358.20.

But there is an even bigger question here. Even if Prop. 32 flies and unions can’t deduct the political part of their dues from a member’s paycheck, I have to wonder why the government (i.e. the taxpayer) is involved at all in the collection of monies for a union – a private, non-tax paying, multimillion dollar corporation. In short, why can’t the union collect its own dues?

The answer, of course, is that if the union had to do it, it would lose millions because many teachers wouldn’t bother paying up. This is just what happened in Wisconsin after Act 10 became law.

In the nearly 15 months since Mr. Walker signed the law, 6,000 of the AFT’s Wisconsin 17,000 members quit, the union said. It blamed the drop on the law.

WEAC, the other teachers union in Wisconsin, has lost almost a quarter of its membership (20,000 teachers) since the advent of Act 10, with more sure to follow when their contracts end in June 2013.

And just how do the unions justify payroll deduction of dues?

Bob Chanin, then-general counsel of the National Education Association, explained it in 1978: “It is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers. . . [They] simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose.”

Seems to me that it’s time that “the beasts who are our teachers” and the general public, who get taken to the cleaners on a regular basis, rise up against their abusers. A Yes vote on Prop. 32 in California would be a good place to start.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Knox vs. SEIU – A Reaffirmation

The Supreme Court reached the right decision in the Knox case, but we still to need to let all American workers choose whether or not they want to belong to a union.

While last week’s Supreme Court’s Arizona immigration and Obamacare decisions have caused great controversy in some circles, its earlier judgment in the Knox vs. Service Employees International Union case was widely heralded; only the union elites and their fellow travelers were unhappy with it. A great majority agreed that the Court acted properly in issuing a verdict that supported the freedom of union workers not to have to have dues forcibly removed from their paychecks and given to political causes that they don’t support. By a 7-2 margin, the justices said the SEIU could not force its members to pay the part of union dues that goes for political causes even if the union felt it was for the workers own good.

Actually this decision didn’t break any new ground. Unions haven’t been allowed to force workers to pay for their political agenda since the 1970s and 1980s when several landmark decisions were handed down by the court. But SEIU Local 1,000 in California tried to hoodwink the rank and file. The case probably never should have reached the high court, but their involvement became necessary in order to overturn a decision from the far left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (or as it’s affectionately known to us left coasters – the Ninth Circus), which has become a regular occurrence these days.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

The California SEIU local attempted to end run these protections in a special 2005 election and the midterms in 2006, amid a furious debate about union government perks. The SEIU joined a “Political Fight-Back Fund” to defeat two propositions that would have given then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability in some cases to modify salaries, benefits and pensions. To fund this advocacy, the SEIU imposed a temporary 25% hike in union dues, never providing its 28,000 non-union members the Hudson notice that would have let them opt out.

The SEIU argued that lobbying against the ballot initiatives was really work on behalf of all workers. Yet that would erase the legal distinction between politics and collective bargaining. These activities may be especially fungible in public employee practice already, but this was too much even for liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who concurred with the majority on the narrow if obvious grounds of technical precedent.

The irony here is dazzling. Steve Greenhut notes,

It’s ironic that SEIU took money from nonmembers to specifically battle a statewide proposition that would have stopped them from being able to take such money in the future. There’s something disturbingly totalitarian about that – making me give you money that you can use to stop me from exerting my rights.

The SCOTUS even went so far as to question whether or not an “opt in” method of dues collection would be more just.

Writing for a five-member majority, however, Justice Samuel Alito raises larger questions about compulsory union dues and individual rights. Shouldn’t the people who choose not to join a union, he asks, have to opt into political and ideological activities that they may presumably dispute—rather than opt out? “Which side should bear the risk?” he continues. “The answer is obvious: the side whose constitutional rights are not at stake.”

While the court is to be commended for its decision and bringing up the notion that opt out as the default position is grossly unfair, there is a bigger worker freedom issue at stake – that is, paying union dues as a condition of employment for certain workers in 27 states and the nation’s capital.

In California, for example, in order to teach in a public school, teachers are forced to pay dues to three different unions to the tune of over $1,000 a year. They must fork over money to a national union (National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers), a state affiliate (California Teachers Association or California Federation of Teachers), as well as their local union. If they choose not to have any part of their dues go to union supported political issues or candidates, they must resign from the union, and by November 15th of each year ask for a refund. They can expect to get back about a third of their dues. The bad news is that the union still gets to keep the rest, claiming that this is a “fair share” because they are representing teachers – whether or not this representation is wanted. And of course, union members usually have to find the resignation procedure out for themselves; the unions only grudgingly, upon request, give its members minimal information – and fairly often the information they do provide is misleading or erroneous.

Anyone who believes in liberty should be outraged about forced unionism. As a teacher, I was aghast at just about everything that CTA stood for, yet was still forced to line its pockets. The only way to pay nothing to the union as a teacher is to become a religious objector. This entails hiring a lawyer and proving that you are “religious enough.” If successful, the teacher still has to pay the full dues amount to a mutually agreed upon charity. Bottom line: In a non-right-to-work state, a teacher must pay to play.

With Independence Day upon us, we the people need to confront the fact that it is downright un-American and immoral to force workers to join an organization that they don’t want to belong to as a condition of employment. Anything short of giving workers the freedom to choose is not acceptable.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.