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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.

No Teachers Union in Clovis

San Joaquin Valley’s Fresno County can boast about more than its raisins.

Clovis, a city of about 100,000 located right next to Fresno in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley, has a particular distinction: the city’s schools have never been unionized. Of course, the California Teachers Association dons pretend that Clovis doesn’t even exist because the district works quite well for teachers and kids without an organized labor presence. No, teachers aren’t fired “for advocating for their students,” aren’t bound and tortured by sadistic principals and aren’t slaving away for minimum wage.

As reported in a recent piece by Joe Mathews, Clovis is the 16th largest school district in California, with 42,000 students, 49 schools, and 5,000 employees. The student body is ethnically mixed, and about half of its children are on free or reduced lunch.

Back in the 1970s, when the teacher unionization epidemic hit California, Clovis superintendent Floyd Buchanan and the city’s teachers decided that they could handle the k-12 education process themselves, thus avoiding divisive union dictats and strict work rules that have infected almost all other school districts in the Golden State. While state law mandates much of what happens in school districts, including union imperatives like tenure and seniority rules, everything else is left to the local district – teacher salaries and benefits, curriculum, school calendar, student safety issues, etc.

Teachers certainly have a voice and a role in governance, though. Instead of a union, they have a Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”

Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. Also, Clovis teachers pay no union dues while Fresno teachers are saddled with forced payments of $983 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association. (For under $200 a year, Clovis teachers can and do join the Association of American Educators to ensure they have liability insurance and other perks of belonging to a professional association.) Also, as Faculty Senate president Duane Goudy told me in an email, “Our health benefits plan (we are self-insured) costs less and is one of the best in the state.”

And students in Clovis are prospering. As reported by the Fresno Bee in 2014, a study by Oakland-based nonprofit Education Trust-West looked at academic performance in more than 140 school districts and showed that California generally fares poorly, with most districts receiving either a C or D grade. “Of the nine districts surveyed in the central San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, Central, Madera and Visalia Unified’s, seven received a C or a D.” But Clovis earned a solid A, having ranked in the top 10 for four straight years. Additionally, students of color graduate at high rates and have been steadily improving on statewide tests. All this and they do it for less. As reported by Goudy, “Our district receives considerably less money per student than Fresno and 18 other districts in our county.”

The real lesson of Clovis is that good education depends not on bloated budgets, bureaucratic paper-pushers and union work rules, but rather on committed teachers and administrators who are dedicated to their students first and foremost.

Can the Clovis model be replicated? Of course. It would take a group of independent-minded teachers with moxie and tenacity to decertify their union, and thus say good-by to the one-size-fits-all regimen of the CTA and their local affiliates. No easy task, to be sure, but certainly doable.

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.

Dear South Side Teacher

An open letter to the idealistic teacher in Chicago who may have defied the teachers union by not striking on April 1st.

In a recent newspaper article you said you were “morally and ethically” against the Chicago Teachers Union one-day strike (or “Day of Tantrum,” according to a Chicago Tribune op-ed) last Friday and that loyalty to your students trumps loyalty to the CTU. A like-minded teacher said she’s furious about the whole thing and is concerned about the message this sends to students. “We’re there to teach and set a good example. This sets a horrible example. I think we are being used as pawns to get legislation passed,” she said.

While there are undoubtedly issues that need to be dealt with, you realize that a “job action” is really not the best way to get what you want. If making noise to focus attention on the issues at hand is necessary, that could have been handled at the rally already planned for downtown Chicago late afternoon Friday. Enraging rush hour commuters is bad enough, but using kids as pawns to draw attention to your grievances is really pathetic.

And what did you get for your idealistic stance against the union bosses? They threatened to banish you from CTU!

But is that really a bad thing? Thousands of teachers all over the country don’t join the union at all, or join and then leave, and are none the worse for it. When I quit UTLA here in Los Angeles, my professional life suffered not a whit.

And maybe you know that of the 50 largest school districts in the country, after working five years, Chicago teachers are already the highest paid.

And maybe you feel that the district shouldn’t have to “pick up” seven percent of the nine you are supposed to pay for your own pension.

And maybe you don’t think it’s fair that Chicagoans were recently hit with a massive $700 million tax hike and already face the highest per-capita tax burden of any residents in Illinois’ major cities.

And maybe you’re tired of the silly teacher union mantra that unionization is important so that you can “advocate” for your kids. As a non-union member, I certainly advocated for my kids as much as I did when I was in the union. What decent teacher wouldn’t? In this instance the union is hardly advocating for kids, it is abandoning them.

And maybe you think that laying off 17 teachers to help balance the books isn’t so awful. In actuality it would be a good thing if it were 17 of the poorest performers. But thanks to CTU and other unions, these layoffs are determined by seniority, not teacher quality.

And maybe you have had it with union-style bullying. Despite all their empty talk about the evils of kids bullying other kids, CTU leadership told union delegates to “take attendance” at the picket sites on Friday morning and to “monitor all school entrances.” Hopefully the thuggish threats didn’t deter you.

Maybe you have come to see the forced dues scheme to be nothing more than, as AEI’s Rick Hess suggests, extortion. You are forced to pay over $1,000 a year to an organization that you think not only doesn’t represent you but frequently goes against many of your core beliefs.

And maybe you are annoyed by union leaders’ lies, exaggerations and empty rhetoric. As you know, not only are you forced to pay dues to the Chicago Teachers Union as a condition of employment, your hard-earned dollars also support CTU parent, the American Federation of Teachers. After the Supreme Court failed (only due to Scalia’s death) to decide on the Friedrichs case, the AFT website stated, “This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court.” What?! All a decision for the plaintiffs would have done is allow voluntary public employee union participation. The National Education Association is even worse, committing a double whopper in a recent press release. It claims “In Friedrichs Decision, Supreme Court Reaffirms Collective Bargaining.” Ridiculous. First of all, collective bargaining was never an issue in Friedrichs. Moreover, the Court didn’t reaffirm anything. The vote split 4-4, which means that SCOTUS let a lower court opinion stand. But with teachers unions, truthfulness and clarity are only occasional events.

You may want to consider getting a job at a charter school. Few are unionized and none are associated with CTU. One-hundred-thirty charter schools, including 70 high schools, went on with business-as-usual Friday in Chicago. No, CTU doesn’t ignore charters; their focus is on restricting them. As soon as the strike issues are resolved, the union will resume their effort to minimize charter authorizations in the Windy City.

In the newspaper article, you were quoted as saying, “The only thing I’ve gotten out of the union is a pocket calendar.” Consider yourself lucky. In 1975, when I was a union member, I was laid off from my 6th grade teaching position in Harlem. New York City was going through tough fiscal times and, as a new hire, I was one of the first to be let go. I may not have been the greatest teacher in the world, but I was a heck of a lot better than some who were retained. So I lost my job because of the union mandated “last-in, first-out” regimen.

If you are worried that you will lose your voice and your union-supplied liability insurance, fear not. There are other organizations – professional organizations – that can fill those needs. Why not try the Association of American Educators or the Christian Educators Association? You will save money and be a part of a group that truly cares and supports good teachers and kids. And I promise you they will never use threats and coercion against you, should you decide to follow your conscience. And who knows – they might even throw in a pocket calendar.

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.

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Bye-bye Abood?

SCOTUS appears to be ready to dump mandatory public employee union dues payments.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association lawsuit. The case centers around whether or not teachers and other public employees should be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment in states that don’t have right-to-work (RTW) laws. Reviewing the comments and questions from the Justices, a favorable outcome is looking very good for the plaintiffs.

The lawyers and court-watchers have been anticipating a 5-4 decision, with Antonin Scalia being the swing vote. The typically conservative justice had in the past come down on the side of forced agency fees or “fair share,” which is a full dues payment minus the money the union spends on politics should a teacher object. The unions claim they are compelled to represent every teacher, and thus, every teacher should have to pay something for their services. That set up has been law since SCOTUS enshrined it in the Abood decision in 1977 in an attempt to ensure “labor peace.”

But Scalia seems to have had a change of heart. Noting the differences between private and public unions, he said, “But the problem is that it is not the same as a private employer, that what is bargained for is, in all cases, a matter of public interest. And that changes…the situation in a way that that may require a change of the rule. It’s one thing to provide it for private employers. It’s another thing to provide it for the government, where every matter bargained for is a matter of public interest.” (P. 76)

Even more damning, Scalia ended up essentially agreeing with the main point of the plaintiffs’ argument. “The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of all of those questions are necessarily political questions.” (P.45)

Anthony Kennedy, traditionally the Court’s swing voter, showed little sympathy for the union position. He dismissed the classic union rallying point that refers to those RTW state employees who “benefit” from union activities but don’t pay money to them as “free riders.” Kennedy rejected that argument, referring to them instead as “compelled riders.”

And you ­­ the term is free rider. The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.

Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points. (P.43)

Kennedy also brought up the frequently fuzzy line between political spending and so called chargeable (non-political) fees, asking the lawyer for the state of California. “Do union — do unions have public relations programs of or newspaper articles, media programs to talk about things like merit pay, protecting underperforming teachers and so forth? Do the unions actually make those arguments, and aren’t those chargeable expenses? (P.44)

The union lawyers kept stressing that forced dues were essential to their survival, but Scalia disagreed, pointing out, “Why do you think that the union would not survive without these – these – fees charged to nonmembers of the union? Federal employee unions do – do not charge agency fees to nonmembers and they seem to survive; indeed they prosper….” (P.50)

The union lawyers and four Justices sympathetic to their cause didn’t have much of a defense. They kept making the same tired old points and added the stare decisis argument, the doctrine of precedent, which came up several times. Lawyers cite it when an issue has been previously brought to the court and a ruling already made. Generally, courts will adhere to the previous judgment, though this is not always the case.

There have been several landmark cases where prior rulings have been completely disregarded, most notably in Plessy v Ferguson (1896). The Court ruled the “constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’” But in 1954, stare decisis was set aside when the court overturned Plessy. In Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, the Court reversed itself, saying that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Referring to Friedrichs, George Leef writes in Forbes, “Where First Amendment rights are at issue…stare decisis and the convenience of teachers’ unions seem very small considerations.”

The media weigh in

Reading countless reports and articles on the trial, I could not find one that thought it went the union’s way. Typical is a piece from Politico titled. “SCOTUS support for anti-union plaintiffs,” which begins, “The Supreme Court appeared ready Monday to bar public-sector unions from collecting ‘fair-share’ fees from non-members, a move that could deal a political blow to Democrats by reducing union membership drastically and draining union coffers.”

The only glimmer of hope came from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who wrote, “As I listened (and admittedly, I’m not impartial!), I felt they failed to present a compelling argument for why the court should overturn 40 years of precedent — precedent that has led to labor peace in the public sector, better services for communities, easier administration for state and local governments, and, of course, fair pay and benefits for working families.”

But as she said, she is not impartial. In fact, anything but.

The usual pro-union suspects weighed in and essentially agreed that the plaintiffs would probably emerge victorious, but their reporting was leaden with a heavy dose of anger and angst. Perhaps the most hysterical was an article on Huffington Post titled, “This is Bad! Attack on Teacher Unions is an Assault on Students, Workers and Democracy.” His slant was obvious; in a brief article, he used the word “rightwing” seven times and just to change things up, he threw in “right-wing” a couple of times.

What happens next?

The justices may very well have already voted or will do so very soon, but it’ll likely be June before their decision is announced. Between now and then a lot can happen. The Justices’ minds can be changed by other justices and can be affected by public opinion and (indirect) union pressure. Hence the PR war will go on.

If the unions lose, how bad will it be for them?

Probably not nearly as bad as they are making it out to be. First, they can get rid of the free rider problem by becoming a members-only organization. (Some state laws may have to be tweaked, but that shouldn’t be an onerous task.) Then, if a teacher likes their union they can pay for services rendered. If they want no part of the union, they won’t join. There are other organizations like the Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International that provide many of the benefits and protections offered by the union.

Also, by becoming a members-only entity, the unions will enlist only true believers. But they will, however, have to be more responsive to the needs and wishes of their members since teachers as well as other public employees will no longer be forced to pay them.

Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, writes that children could be winners should the plaintiffs prevail, “…teachers may gain greater leverage in determining the policies that union leaders pursue. If that leads to policies that reward great teaching and put more of the best teachers in the classrooms that need them most, students will win.”

And there are union stalwarts who aren’t crying in their beer. Trade union activist Shamus Cooke asserts that unions need to step up their organizing game if they are to remain powerful. Samantha Winslow makes pretty much the same point in “Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs.”

If Friedrichs is successful, who will be the big loser?

Democrats and the left.

There is no doubt that union warchests will take a hit if all teachers aren’t forced to fill them. While no one knows how many teachers will refuse membership, I think a conservative guess would be that one-third will choose to avoid ties to the union. If so, the California Teachers Association’s $180 million a year gravy train would be sliced down to $120 million. As you can see here (H/T Colin Sharkey), CTA gives 96.7 percent of that gravy to Democrats. And what doesn’t go specifically to Democrats goes to leftist causes. On a national level, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers’ spending just about all goes in a leftward direction.

Final word

The Abood decision, which claimed it would ensure “labor peace,” did so at the cost of freedom of association for millions of teachers across America over a 39-year period. “Labor peace” has also come at great expense to parents, children and taxpayers who have suffered as the unions coffers were used in part to kill education reform, keep kids in failing schools and raise taxes. Hopefully, the judges will soon rid our lives of Abood and if they do, trading bad policy for “labor peace” will become a sad relic of another time.

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.

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.

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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Stand Up To Bullying Day

The NEA says that May 4th should be devoted to anti-bullying. Okay, and to be fair, I suggest that we start with the biggest organized bullies in the country – the teachers unions themselves.

The National Education Association celebrated “Stand Up To Bullying Day” on May 4th. Its website is full of advice about how to deal with what it calls “everyone’s problem.” With a solemnity ordinarily reserved for a Sunday morning sermon, NEA has created a pledge

I agree to be identified as a caring adult who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with other caring adults to create a safe learning environment for all the students in my school.

Please note, the union talks only about children bullying other children; there is nothing about adults bullying other adults.

Few adults in the country know more about bullying than Kristi Lacroix, a parent of five in eastern Wisconsin and according to her principal a “very good teacher.” Lacroix made a brief video late last year in which she spoke well of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – aka “Hitler” to many teacher unionistas in the Badger State because he led the charge to remove teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Many in teachers unions believe that collective bargaining is sacrosanct, a human right; it’s not. In fact, it survives only because union heavies and their legislative fellow travelers in certain states have made sure that that this Soviet style group-think is law.

Lacroix has been a target of Alinskyite teacher union venom for months now. There is a “fire Kristi” movement that has led to a vicious hate mail attack from members of teachers unions. Luckily, Lacroix is anything but a shrinking violet and has stood tall and started her own website in an attempt to tell her story and lead the charge against the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s NEA affiliate.

Sad to say, Lacroix is far from the only teacher victimized by bullying. Actually, teacher unions, despite their public concern for children, can be quite brutal. In fact, the NEA asking anyone to take an anti-bullying pledge is akin to “Uncle Joe” Stalin asking people not to bully the Ukrainians.

Recently, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, published an important report – Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around which is summarized as “When Bullies Grow Up, They Can Always Run Teachers Unions,” an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. She explains that teacher union bullying is rampant and can come either directly from the unions or as a result of fear of them. For example,

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?”

In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations — not just unions, but also other professional organizations — equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.

Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.

This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn’t publicly speak for a bill extending the state’s two-week window for ending union membership.

“They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization,” she wrote. “I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job.”

At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being “a desperate former teacher” and stalked about the room ripping up the competition’s fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.

As sickening as these examples are, Pullmann goes on to say that they are not isolated incidents.

Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations.

As we can see, teachers are frequent victims of teacher union bullying, but to show that they are fair–minded and equal-opportunity coercers, the California Teachers Association recently did a bang-up job of bullying parents in Adelanto, a town in eastern California. Not liking the results of a Parent Trigger vote at a local school, CTA sent in its finest arm twisters, I mean representatives, and “convinced” many of those who signed the petitions to have a “change of heart.”

While I’m sure that most teachers are not in accord with thuggish union activities, it is not enough to stand on the sidelines and wish the problem away. It is imperative that teachers speak out against teacher union bullying. While Kristi Lacroix has indeed received some positive mail, it typically comes from teachers who do so privately and, because of the fear factor, will not publicly criticize their union. If a lot more teachers don’t speak up, however, the public has no choice but to assume that their silence is tacit approval of the unions’ actions, thus earning them the justifiable enmity of a populace that is rapidly getting sick and tired of teacher union antics.

May 9th is the “Day of the Teacher,” but perhaps the day should be renamed “Stand Up To Teacher Union Bullying Day.” It would be a good time for dissident teachers to come forth and take a stand. For a profession that is supposedly demoralized, this could be the first step to “remoralization.” And yes, there are other professional organizations that they can join that provide them with many of the same perks and protections and save them money at the same time. But while The Association of American Educators, Christian Educators Association International, Educators 4 Excellence, California Teachers Empowerment Network, et al are all growing, the teachers unions still predominate. And union heavies are lying in wait, ready to bully the next brave teacher who dares to take issue with the union party line.

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.