Posts

The Unions’ Assault on Truth

The teachers unions continue to mislead its members and everyone else.

In the latest issue of the California Federation of Teachers quarterly newsletter, CFT president Josh Pechthalt writes “The lawsuits that educators and unions must defeat,” which is referred to as a “special report” – special because it is especially filled with half-truths, omissions and lies.

Pechthalt starts his piece with, “Education unions and public sector unions are facing legal attacks designed to destroy our ability to represent our members. Not surprisingly, these cases are supported by the usual anti-union law firms and wealthy backers. What follows is a snapshot of the cases CFT and other unions are now fighting.”

He then delves into four lawsuits he claims are an “attack on union treasury driven by wealthy education ‘reformers.’”

The first lawsuit on Pechthalt’s hit list is the Friedrichs case which, if successful, would make paying dues to a public employee union voluntary. The union boss skirts the essence of the suit and instead focuses on a secondary aspect. He writes, “While a complete elimination of agency fee is unlikely, the Supreme Court could make it more difficult to collect agency fee payments, which would have a serious financial impact on unions, weakening our ability to advocate for our members and be engaged in politics.” First, if his scenario is correct, dues collection could be more difficult, but only for teachers who don’t want to join the union. And he doesn’t mention the benefit to the taxpayer who, at least for the latter group, could be out of the dues collection business. Secondly, the ability to be “engaged in politics” is rather humorous. What Pechthalt doesn’t mention is that their spending goes to only leftist causes and many donations go to groups that have nothing to do with education whatsoever. A brief look at the union’s parent organization’s latest labor department filing shows that teachers’ dues money went to organizations like The National Newspapers Publishers Association and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. And what teacher isn’t going to be thrilled that the union donated $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative and another $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation? (Only about 13 percent of money given to the latter winds up as charitable grants for those in need. The rest is spent on salaries, benefits, travel and fund-raising.)

Pechthalt’s next hit is on the Students Matter or Vergara case, which he uncleverly dubs “Students Don’t Matter.” In this well-publicized case, the judge struck down the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in California’s constitution. Pechthalt claims that these statutes “protect teachers’ ability to teach free of coercion and favoritism.” Baloney. No one in the private sector is entitled to have a job for life and gets to keep their position over a more talented colleague thanks to nothing more than an earlier hiring date; why should public employees merit such extraordinary privilege? All these statutes do is guarantee that mediocre and worse teachers are on equal footing with the good and great ones. And our poorest children have paid the price for decades.

The union president then rolls into Doe v Antioch, litigated by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the same firm that was responsible for Vergara’s success. This suit is based on a 2012 ruling in which Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice correctly maintained that teacher evaluations require, in part, the use of standardized test scores and the judge promptly ordered their inclusion. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring the court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. Pechthalt claims that, “While a 1999 law amended the 1971 Stull Act to broadly include the use of test scores, the advocates for education unions contend districts were given latitude to negotiate language relevant to their needs.” Fine. But the law says that student test scores still must be used as some part of a teacher’s evaluation. “Latitude” doesn’t mean “none.”

Pechthalt’s last broadside is saved for Bain v CTA, which he subtitles, “I-want-it-all-for-free.” This is a lie, plain and simple. The plaintiffs in this case want to belong to the union, are willing to pay dues, but don’t want to support the union’s political agenda. Maybe they don’t feel like supporting the Clintons. Or maybe they’d like to decide for themselves if their hard-earned money should be given to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Or maybe they are actually in favor of the reforms that teachers unions regularly fight against in Sacramento.

Sad to say, Pechthalt is not unique. Distorting the truth is very common with union bosses. AFT president Randi Weingarten has proclaimed, “If somebody shouldn’t teach – if somebody can’t teach – they shouldn’t be there.” Nice words, but she doesn’t mean a word of it. During her reign as head of the New York City teachers union, just 88 out of 80,000 teachers lost their jobs for poor performance over a three year period.

The AFT also got caught in a whopper when it claimed in 2014 it had no agency fee payers – teachers who still have to pay money to the union but have exempted themselves from paying for the union’s political agenda – even as AFT locals reported that thousands have gone the agency fee route. In 2015, the union reported exactly one agency fee payer. One.

It’s not only teachers unions that have a loose relationship with facts. UnionWatch’s Ed Ring has given us a primer in Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public. It is up to teachers, citizens and journalists to learn the truth and start calling unions on their BS. Maybe then their lies will stop, or at least slow down a bit. Maybe.

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 California Teacher

An email sent to educators just 10 years ago opened a lot of eyes – including mine – about the true nature of the teachers unions.

In 2005, after having taught for 24 years, I was becoming quite agitated. All along I had been subsidizing the teachers unions’ political agenda and thought I had no choice in doing so. I then learned that I could opt out of the political portion of union dues, but the process to do so was designed to discourage such actions. Shortly thereafter I read about Prop. 75, a California ballot initiative, which would have done just what I wanted: make the payment of the political portion of union dues voluntary. Teachers and other public employees would have to give the union permission before it deducted several hundred dollars a year from each paycheck to fund its pet political causes. The unions’ largess, supporting many causes which had nothing to do with teaching or education, went almost entirely in a leftward direction – implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain, etc.

In June, 2005, political consultant Steve Frank recruited me to become part of the Prop. 75 campaign. The so-called “Paycheck Protection” initiative was very popular at that time with both teachers and the general public. But over the summer, deeply threatened that their easy access to workers’ money would be cut off, the unions went into overdrive and spent a huge amount of cash, much of it on misleading ads. The California Teachers Association told teachers that if the prop passed, their pensions would be threatened. The police union told their members that if it was successful, the public would learn where the cops lived. Both allegations were big lies, but they were effective in swaying public opinion.

In October, several weeks before the election, Fontana teacher Lillian Perry and I signed off on an email sent to 90,000 teachers by the Prop. 75 campaign. It began,

Dear California Teacher:

We are also California teachers and are writing to you because we’re concerned about what the leaders of our union, the California Teachers Association (CTA), are doing to our union and with our hard earned dollars that we send to them in Sacramento every month.

Here’s the bottom line: Our current leadership is on the verge of bankrupting the CTA to fund a political agenda that many of us do not support.

Every year, union leaders in Sacramento take more than $100 million dollars from California teachers’ paychecks. This is approximately $300 per teacher per year. Much of this is used to fund a political agenda over which individual teachers have little control. Even worse, this is taken from our paychecks without our permission.

Earlier this year, the CTA leadership decided it still didn’t have enough money to spend on politics, so the (they) decided to take an additional $60 each year from our paychecks for the next three years. This forced assessment gave the union leaders an additional $50 million or more of our money for their political agenda.

Then, the spit really hit the fan. To say that CTA was unhappy would be the understatement of the century. The email made news all over the state, and if nothing else, got everyone talking about the prop. The Daily Kos smeared those of us who had stepped forward. CTA boss Barbara Kerr was indignant, saying, “It’s insulting that it was sent to them at their schools.” The union tried to push the matter – even at one point threatening Perry and me with imprisonment for sending our missive to teachers at work which it claimed was illegal. (The bullying didn’t work; we sent two more emails which CTA couldn’t stop because it didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.)

We did get some sympathetic press, though. Deroy Murdock, a media fellow with the Hoover Institution, wrote “The Union of the Snake” for National Review, in which he detailed the ugly bullying tactics used by the union to combat the initiative. As is oh-so-typical, the unions rarely argued the merits of the prop; they simply threatened us, cursed at us and shouted us down. As Murdock reports, when a National Right to Work Foundation lawyer and several of the prop’s advocates held a press conference in Sacramento, some of SEIU’s finest showed up and yelled “Shame on you!!” over and over and over again as the proponents tried to make their case. Murdock also related the tale of Sandra Crandall – a Teacher-of-the-Year – who then was in her 36th year as a Kindergarten teacher in Fountain Valley. In September, Crandall told the Los Angeles Times, “This is a freedom-of-choice issue. The issue is so simple, my Kindergarten children understand it. Ask permission. Ask permission on how to use my hard-earned money.”

Crandall’s simple, fair-minded statement engendered a less-than-charming response from “Four Pro-Union teachers who think you and the governor and the Republican party (sic) stink.” A few highlights:

You are a disgrace in supporting such a measure … You not only deserve to be shunned by your colleagues, you deserve to be bitch slapped in public by all the teachers you work with for demonstrating such a high level of right wing drivel and stupidity. Do us all a favor, shut your mouth and stop providing ammunition to the enemy.

Ah yes, nothing like tolerance and civil discourse!

As Election Day neared, I was mildly optimistic that we’d win. Especially so, after I, along with Lillian Perry, former Mayor Richard Riordan and Deputy Sheriff Lon Jacobs, appeared before the Los Angeles Times editorial board to pitch the initiative. We apparently convinced them of its merits, because on October 16th, much to my delight, the Times officially endorsed Prop. 75.

In the end though, we couldn’t beat the powerful union machine. Fueled by CTA’s $12 million ad buys (paid for, of course, with dues money teachers were forced to fork over), the anti-75 forces outspent us almost 10 to 1 – $54.1 million to $5.8 million and the measure lost by 53.5 to 46.5 percent. Not surprisingly all the big money came from the unions, including a $3.3 million donation from the California Democratic Party – a bought-and-paid-for wing of CTA.

Needless to say, I was furious with the outcome. But it motivated me in 2006 to co-found the California Teachers Empowerment Network, whose mission is to give teachers unbiased information, and combat union spin and outright lies. In 2010, I worked on a similar prop – The Citizens Power Initiative – which unfortunately never made it onto the ballot. And in 2012 I stumped for Prop. 32, yet another initiative promoting worker freedom. It too failed at the polls.

Now – exactly ten years after the rise and fall of Prop. 75 – there are two lawsuits which could accomplish even more than what the failed initiative had tried to achieve. The Friedrichs v CTA case, due to be heard by SCOTUS in 2016, would make paying any dues to a union optional for all public employees nationwide. If Bain v. CTA flies, teachers will be able to opt out of the political portion of their dues without being forced to resign from the union.

Both cases promote teacher freedom and choice at the expense of union bullying and hegemony. It’s about time teachers and other public employees had both.

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 Randi (Redux),

Given the assertions you make in your latest “Where We Stand” column, we need to talk!

So it’s been a year since I last wrote to you. You sure have been busy! Defending mandatory voting laws and Hillary Clinton, railing against cheese sandwiches and Jeb Bush, it’s totally understandable that you may be getting a bit fuzzy in your, er, facts concerning teachers. I am assuming your errors are honest ones as opposed to the other kind. (No, I am not going to make a joke that you should rename your column “Where We Lie.”) In any event, as president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization that aims to get accurate information to teachers (and everyone else), I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

In your latest column, you erroneously refer to tenure as “due process.” Randi! Randi! Randi! As a lawyer, you surely know that teachers already have tons of due process, and that tenure is just an added layer that makes it just about impossible to fire an incompetent one. In California, on average, two tenured teachers – out of about 300,000 – are canned for poor performance every year. (I’m sure you would admit that somewhat less than 299,998 of the state’s teachers are really competent.) By the way, in CA, we usually don’t use the word tenure, but instead “permanent status.” How pathetic is that? What workers besides teachers – and Supreme Court Justices – have permanent jobs?

Then you throw in the obligatory jab at the Koch brothers, claiming that they are part of an effort to “dismantle public education.” I know attacking the Kochs is de rigeur union shtick, but seriously, Randi…. The Kochs and others (like me) simply want to give parents a choice where to send their kids to school. I know that you strongly favor giving a woman a choice whether or not to abort her unborn child, so why not give a woman who chooses to keep that child a choice where to send her to school?

Next you say, “Our adversaries don’t want a virtuous cycle that gives everyone a shot at the American dream, with access to a high-quality public education.” Goodness! Randi, where did you come up with that?! You have it backwards. By forcing kids to stay in lousy public schools, you are denying them a shot at the American dream. No, I am not saying that all public schools are bad, but there are far too many that are, and why on earth would you want to force kids to stay in one? And by the way, please tell me why it is that only about 12 percent of urban parents send their kids to private schools nationwide, yet in the New York metropolitan area 33 percent of teachers send their kids to private school? In San Francisco that number is 34 percent, and it’s 39 percent in Chicago. I look forward to your addressing this disparity in one of your future columns.

Then you bring up two major lawsuits that the unions are involved in. Mercy, Randi, you are a lawyer! How could you get so much so wrong?! You first mention California’s Bain v. CTA case, writing, “… the plaintiffs are claiming that as nonmembers of a union, they should still get the full benefits of belonging to a union, for free.” Pure nonsense! No one is trying to get anything for free. The case is about teachers who are happy being dues-paying union members but simply do not want to financially support the union’s political agenda. The way things are now is that in order to not support that agenda, a teacher must resign from the union but still pay what’s called an agency fee – about 2/3 of full dues or $700 a year – to the union. Teachers who do go that route are stripped of essential benefits that they are paying for just because they don’t want to fill the union’s political coffers.

Following a complete misrepresentation of Bain, you then mangle Friedrichs v CTA, writing,

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs aim to break unions by eliminating the fee paid by those who have union benefits but don’t join. Agency fee reflects the cost to the union of representing all workers in a bargaining unit. It’s also known as fair share, because it’s only fair if everyone who benefits from the services a union provides also chips in to cover the cost of those benefits.

First, the suit is not about breaking any union. This case is simply about giving teachers a choice whether or not to join one. Then you get into the bogus “fair share” argument. Yes if a teacher wants what a union has to offer, they should of course have to pay for the service. But if a teacher doesn’t want what a union is offering, why do you think it’s “fair” to force them to pay for it anyway? (I have asked this question to scores of people and have never received a good answer. If you are so inclined, please give it a shot; my email address is below.)

And finally, you write that “union members have higher wages…” But higher than whose? If you are talking about non-unionized teachers, you’re not even close. In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli compared teachers’ salaries in school districts which allow collective bargaining with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved made more than those who were in collective bargaining districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He adds that the unions are really about “… protecting benefits and seniority – not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.”

Once again, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and not accusing you of maliciously misrepresenting the truth, but rather maintaining that you are flat-out wrong in much of what you wrote. Please remember the words of that wise old philosopher Elvis Presley, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”

In any event, I hope this helps. If you don’t want to retract any of your misstatements, perhaps we could have a public discussion about your version of the “facts,” as we did in 2010. If you are interested, please send me an email at lsand@ctenhome.org, and we can take it from there. Thanks.

Best,

Larry Sand

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.