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The DivIdes of March

My latest battle against a teacher union leader….

Last month, Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association that was recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and I were invited to talk about her case on Inside OC, a public affairs TV show in Orange County. Rebecca was given the first half of the show solo and the second half would see me debating her case against an unspecified union representative. I agreed to participate and was stunned a few days later when the show’s host, Rick Reiff, told me in an email that my sparring partner would be none other than CTA President Eric Heins.

After years of debunking teacher union spin, it’s always a pleasure to go face to face with these folks and expose their distortions. My first opportunity in this realm came in New York City in March, 2010 when Terry Moe, Stanford professor and expert-on-all-things-teachers-union, captained a debate team which included former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and me. Our opponents were Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a school superintendent from Southern California and a teacher from Massachusetts. In the town where the modern teacher union movement was hatched, we won the debate handily; in fact we clobbered them. In a review of the debate, University of Arkansas professor and esteemed education reformer Jay Greene referred to it as a smackdown.

Three years later in March, 2013, I shared a stage in Mountain View with Moe again, former California State Senator Gloria Romero, who regularly battled the teachers unions during her time in Sacramento, and Heins’ predecessor at CTA, Dean Vogel. Though not a debate, the event sponsored by the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, saw sparks fly at various points as the three of us refused to let Vogel get away with any of the usual union bromides.

Now, three Marches later, I am going face-to-face with yet another union leader. The always articulate Rebecca kicked things off, talking for 15 minutes about the lawsuit – the tragedy of Justice Scalia’s death, her hope that the case will be reargued, the problems she had trying to make her dissident voice heard as a union member, the immorality of teachers unions protecting bad teachers and the fallacy of the free-rider argument.

Then Heins, who had a dislocated shoulder and had flown in from Burlingame to be a participant, got five minutes which he used to note what he claims to be the positive aspects of teachers unions – how teachers like Rebecca benefit from collective bargaining, that teachers unions benefit kids, etc.

At about 20 minutes in, I appear and do my best to refute Heins. I asked him why, if the union is so beneficial to teachers, they must be forced to pay dues. He claimed that it is because the union must represent all teachers. I had to remind him that exclusive representation is something demanded by – not foisted on – the unions.

When Heins again glorified the value of collective bargaining, I was tempted to rebut him, but refrained, and emphasized that the case is not at all about collective bargaining but rather about teachers’ freedom of choice. Heins then brought up the old “labor peace” argument, which to me is akin to Al Capone negotiating with Elliot Ness, with the Mafia Don explaining that, “You want peace? Let us partner with you.” Bad argument, because it makes the unions sound like extortionists, but then again….

The subject of tenure came up, and of course Heins immediately used the softer sounding phrase “due process,” though he did let its accurate name “permanent status” slip in once. He then extolled the virtue of the three man panel that considers and decides the fate of teachers accused of wrong-doing. But I countered that the panel is made up of two teacher-union members and an administrative law judge – all hand-picked by the union. Hardly a fair process.

At the end of the segment, Heins just had to dredge up the Koch brothers, signaling that the discussion has jumped the rails. The program came to an end at that point and there was only time for me to respond with an eye-roll. Fortunately, however, we were able to continue our discussion for another nine minutes, which is available on YouTube. We picked up on Heins’ Koch-bashing and I pointed out that the biggest political spender in California is not the Kochs or some large corporation, but rather CTA, whose political gifts are about double the second largest spender, also a union – the California State Council of Service Employees, a branch of SEIU.

Heins then veered into how democratically union decisions are made and that they respect minority views. I asked him if the union respected a Republican minority view and he assured me it did. I mentioned that his predecessor claimed that CTA membership was about 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican. I asked Heins what proportion of their political giving goes to Republicans. He insisted that all their spending “is based on education policy” and that they support some Republicans. This is mostly a crock, but I did not bring up the following to refute him as we got side-tracked. What I wished I had said, was that about 97 percent of CTA political spending goes to Democrats, with the remaining crumbs going to the GOP. More importantly, I did not bring up where so much CTA spending goes. Despite Heins’ insistence that it based on education policy, it is not. For example, CTA has spent millions on initiatives to get drug discounts for Californians, to regulate electric service providers, to raise the corporate tax rate in the Golden State, etc. (The last one is especially hypocritical as CTA doesn’t pay one red cent in taxes.) The union also spent well over $1 million of teacher union dues fighting for same sex marriage.

I suggested that the union regularly buys politicians at which point Heins smiled and said that my comment was “cynical spin.” Hardly. We then discussed seniority which Heins thought was quite fair, while I, along with many other reformers, think it is an abominable way to make staffing decisions.

At the end of the session, Reiff said, “We needed an hour!” and he was right. There was way too much ground to cover in such a brief time. The following day I sent a message to Heins telling him I would be willing to do an hour with him anytime, anywhere. I have yet to hear back.

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.

Jejune in April

NEA rolls out its plan for what to do in case its worst nightmare – worker freedom – comes to pass.

Last July, the California Teachers Association released “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share,” a 23-page PowerPoint presentation unearthed by Mike Antonucci. The document revealed that teacher union honchos in the Golden State are expecting that pending litigation may very well put an end to mandatory union dues, and they’re exhorting local labor leaders to rise to the challenge.

Just last week, Antonucci “declassified” a similar document, this one coming courtesy of CTA’s parent, the National Education Association. Whereas CTA’s dispatch was downright perky – easy-to-read history, timeline and suggestions – its NEA counterpart (actually put together in April of 2014, three months before CTA’s version) is a snooze of Van Winklean proportions. Its 23 pages are packed solid with endless lists, boring bullet points and useless information. Perhaps a warning should have been posted: “Do not read before driving or operating heavy machinery.”

And while the CTA version took a few obligatory swipes at conservatives (what would a union missive be without them?), NEA devoted almost an entire page to its #2 bogeyman – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Interestingly, the graphic the union uses for the think-tank includes descriptors like limited government, free markets, and federalism – all of which suggest that ALEC believes in the Constitution. NEA clearly has other ideas on the nation’s governance. (The memorandum’s exclusion of union enemy #1, the Koch Brothers, is inexplicable.)

And then there are the factual errors in the document, perhaps the most glaring of which is in the introduction. It reads,

Fair Share is a commonsense way to protect equity, individual rights, and the pocketbooks of educators. Also known as Agency Fee, Fair Share provisions ensure that all educators contribute to the legally required representation and negotiated benefits provided to them by local associations. Fair Share does not force individuals to join the Association. It simply makes sure that all educators contribute to the negotiated benefits and legally required representation that they all enjoy. (Emphasis added.)

NEA and other unions repeat this lie so often that it’s commonly accepted as fact. But it’s not truthful at all, and the unions know it. As Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst James Sherk points out,

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions that demonstrate majority support to negotiate as exclusive representatives. If they do so they must negotiate fairly on behalf of all employees, including those who do not pay dues. However unions may disavow (or not obtain) exclusive representative status and negotiate only for their members. Nothing in the National Labor Relations Act forces exclusive representation on unwilling unions. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, if unions don’t want to represent non-members they are not required to do so. But they invariably insist on providing benefits to all.

The document contains another lie that NEA and other unions like to perpetuate.

The poorest states in the US are those in which unions don’t have many members or much power. These are called “Right to Work” states, but what that phrase really means is that workers there have no rights and work for less.

But as I have written before, right-to-work states are actually much stronger economically than their forced-dues counterparts. The Illinois Policy Institute’s Paul Kersey reports that:

  • From 2002 to 2012, states with right-to-work laws saw a 7.2 percent increase in payroll employment, compared to a 2 percent increase in other states.
  • As of September 2014, right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, compared to 6 percent in non-right-to-work states.
  • From 2000 to 2010, right-to-work states saw population growth that was twice as fast as that in other states (13.6 percent compared to 7.3 percent).
  • Median wages in right-to-work states appear $4,345 lower than in other states. However, once you take into account cost of living and local taxes, right-to-work state wages rise. In fact, the cost of living is 16.6 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.
  • Right-to-work economies grew by 62 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared to just 46.5 percent growth in other states.

With its professed dedication to teachers’ best interests, there is also an omission that needs to be addressed. Typically when teachers join a union, they are forced to join three – the local, a national union and its state affiliate. However, there are teachers who enjoy the perks they get from their local but feel no need to send most of their dues money to the state and national entities which suck up about 80 percent (over $800) of a teacher’s total dues payment. If your politics are on the right, or you are a centrist or maybe not political at all, do you really want hundreds of your dues-dollars going to the leftist causes that the state and national unions regularly support? It is possible to form a “local only” teachers union, but only after engaging a lawyer and going through a laborious disaffiliation process. And NEA, far more interested in its bottom line than its teachers, has no mention of this option in its document.

Beyond the errors of omission and commission, there is not much else to comment on. It can be summed up as, “Tell people why they should join the union.” “Go after the younger workers.” “Engage non-members.” “Develop an app.” Tired tactics. Fallacious arguments. Same old, same old.

Zzzzzzzzz.

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.

Checking Out of the Hotel California…Teachers Association

A new document shows that CTA is resigned to the fact that membership in its union will ultimately become voluntary.

Courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we get to peek behind the curtain at an internal California Teachers Association document which has been “declassified.” “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share…” is a 23-page pdf in which the largest state teachers union in the country envisions the future.

The communiqué  starts off with basic demographic data, then launches into a history of “fair share” – the union’s right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state whether or not they join the union. In other words, “fair share” is really “forced share.”

Next there is a history of the initiatives that have tried to curtail the unbridled power of CTA including Prop. 75, in which I was an active participant. This 2005 “paycheck protection” initiative would have required public employee union members’ consent to use part of their dues for political contributions. The default position was – and unfortunately still is – that members must pay and have to jump through hoops not to. CTA tells us that proponent spending on the initiative was $5.8 million, while the prop’s opponents spent more than $44 million, with CTA alone providing over $32 million to defeat it. Given that disparity (and the unions’ outright lies about the issue), it’s not hard to see why the measure went down on Election Day.

The CTA document then goes into past and future legal challenges – Harris v Quinn, Friedrichs v CTA et al. Referring to them as attacks, they posit that these cases will lead to the demise of “fair share.”

Resigned to its worst nightmare – teacher freedom – the union is gearing up for what is standard procedure for most successful businesses and interest groups. If teachers think the union has something beneficial to offer, they can join and pay up. If they don’t see any value in belonging the union, they can just say no and not be forced to pay any dues whatsoever. In this vein, the missive has some suggested sales pitches:

CTA Builds the Infrastructure

Member Benefits research with young, prospective members to learn what might incent (sic) them to want to join the Association voluntarily.  

•Assessing their level of interest in terms of present member benefits offerings.

•How the program might be enhanced to reflect their interests.

•Finding messages that resonate with this demographic, and:

•How to package what Association membership offers in a way that appeals to them.

 Note the language: incent(ivize), voluntarily, reflect their interests, messages that resonate, a way that appeals to them. These are typical terms that a business might use to sell their product or service, which is of course very different from the old CTA forced-dues model, which could have been lifted straight out of The Muggers Guide to Fame and Fortune

There’s more about how CTA plans to adapt, and I would urge you to read the entire 23-page presentation; it is most definitely a stunning document.

Former union leader Doug Tuthill seems right at home with the direction that CTA is going.

The two most effective unions in the United States are the National Rifle Association and the AARP. They’re not industrial unions, but they are unions, and they are far more effective politically and financially than today’s teachers unions. Teachers should adopt this model.

Unlike today’s teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests, not by location. An NRA-AARP type teachers union would be able to advocate for teachers working in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, district schools, virtual schools, art galleries, charter schools, homeschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, YWCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs. The work setting would be irrelevant, just as where NRA and AARP members work — or where American Bar Association lawyers and American Medical Association doctors work — is irrelevant. (The ABA and AMA are also non-industrial unions.)

Even a current union leader has seen the light. Via National Right to Work Committee’s Stan Greer, we learn that veteran union organizer Gary Casteel, who was recently promoted to secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, favors right-to-work laws:

[T]here’s a school of thought that says it’s not such a great thing to have everyone pay dues whether they want to or not….

This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds.  Because [Right to Work is] a voluntary system, if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.

So it would seem that during National Employee Freedom Week which runs through this Saturday, there is cause for optimism. A recent poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys found that nearly 29 percent of union members nationwide responded that they were interested in leaving their union if given the opportunity. A similar poll found that nearly 83 percent of the American public believes that union members should have the right to choose.

As such, maybe one day soon we will see that, unlike the Hotel California, union members can check out and leave their union 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.

Will the Supreme Court Do an “Abood Face?”

The decision in Harris v Quinn could be just the first shoe to drop in the fight against forced union dues.

Last month was not kind to Big Labor. First, the teachers unions in California had some of their favorite work rules knocked out of the state constitution by Judge Rolf Treu in his Vergara decision. Then, on the last day of the month, the Supreme Court agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v Quinn and ruled that homecare workers could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Vergara upset the teacher union Pooh-Bahs who just can’t believe that educators who hang on to their jobs for 16 months aren’t entitled to them for life, regardless of whether they’re good, mediocre or teachers from hell. The decision is going to be appealed and no one knows –  if the appeal fails – how the subsequent replacement laws will play out. But if Vergara got the unions in a snit, Harris has pushed them into apoplexy.

Regarding Harris, I searched the internet long and hard to find a statement from a union leader that went something like this:

The decision doesn’t harm the union movement in the least. It gives hard working men and women the freedom to choose whether or not to join us. If they do join, they will enjoy the benefits and perks that come with union membership. If they choose not to join, we will not force them to. They are free to make whatever deal that they and their employer agree to. As patriotic Americans, we believe in liberty and that means giving all workers a choice.

Okay, I confess. I really didn’t search long and hard. In fact, I didn’t search at all; it would have been a complete waste of time. Instead, we were treated to union leaders doing what they usually do when they don’t get their way: trot out the usual half-truths, fear-mongering and lies to rally the troops and garner public sympathy.  Chalkbeat reports,

‘This court has built a record of weakening the rights of both voters and working families; no one should be surprised by this decision,’ said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement.

Weingarten is saying  that one working family has a right to force a member of another working family into a union.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, defended the ‘fair share’ practice. ‘Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.’

There is nothing fair about forcing a worker to pay dues to an organization that he or she does not want to belong to.

The NEA website goes deeper into the “fair share” philosophy:

All union members who enjoy the benefits, rights, and protections of a contract should, in fairness, and must, according to Illinois state law, contribute to maintaining that contract. Sometimes called ‘agency fee,’ fair share is a percentage of full union dues, based on the actual cost of collective bargaining, contract maintenance, and other services provided to all union members. 

Well yes, all those who benefit from the union contract, should pay dues. But if they don’t want any part of your contract, why are you trying to force them to pay you?

Mind you, Harris was a narrow decision. Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling drew a distinction between the home care workers and ‘full-fledged’ public employees

… who were required to pay union dues under the Court’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent in 1977. In that sense unions dodged a more sweeping decision that could have jeopardized dues payments from all public workers.

But – and this is what’s scaring the spit out of unionistas – Alito added that Abood (which maintains that it is illegal to withhold forced dues from dissenters beyond the cost of collective bargaining) is “questionable on several grounds.” Collective bargaining issues, he wrote, “are inherently political in the public sector.”

In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government… But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. (Emphasis added.)

Clearly, Alito left the door open for the court to do something of an “Abood face.” The next shoe that drops could lead to the unions’ worst nightmare – making union membership optional nationwide. (At this time 26 states are forced union states, while 24 are right-to-work.)

In fact, that “next shoe” is awaiting a fitting. Friedrichs et al v CTA is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a year or two. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though – as per Abood – paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are challenging the law, claiming collective bargaining is inherently political and that all union dues should be voluntary.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, was upbeat after the Harris ruling was announced.

Today’s decision is a good sign of things to come. The Court will soon have before it another union dues case, one that asks it to recognize the First Amendment rights of all employees to decide whether to pay union dues, not just home healthcare workers.

He importantly added,

We’re not attacking collective bargaining. … That’s not at issue. All we’re saying is individual teachers get to decide whether to pay dues to that organization. You can have collective bargaining and you can have a strong union, but you don’t have to have compulsory dues.

If Friedrichs is successful, and the court overturns Abood, workers will have a choice. To paraphrase President Obama, “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” But if you don’t, you can’t be forced to join. Freedom of choice – sounds like the American way to me.

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.

Teacher Unions and Their “Fair Share” Fetish

According to the California Federation of Teachers, taxed-to-death Golden Staters still don’t pay enough.

While teachers unions continue to slam the wealthy for not paying their fair share of taxes, it is the finger-pointers who are really the avaricious ones. Like spoiled children who just can’t get enough candy, they have no sense as to when to stop. Leading the brat campaign this time is the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two state teachers unions. Its website proclaims,

Prop 30 stopped the bleeding in state revenue, but we will continue to see anti-tax, anti-government forces attempt to undermine the public sector. When you hear these people say, “We don’t have the money to provide adequate public services,” or “California has a spending problem,” they are wrong. We have a revenue problem.

Stopped the bleeding? Hardly. It’s the taxpayers who have been hemorrhaging and the higher tax bill is extracting even more blood. Nevertheless, CFT sees the passage of Prop. 30 as just the first step in solving the state’s “revenue problem.”

In fact, when Prop. 30 became law, it left California with the highest sales and income tax rates in the country. Our nation-leading state sales tax rate of 7.25 percent went up to 7.5 percent. And the top marginal personal income tax rate which was 10.3 percent – third highest in the country – is now number one at 13.3 percent – a 29.13 percent increase.

Yet, CFT wants more.

We have a tax system that does not ask those who have the most wealth and resources to pay their fair share—even with passage of Prop 30, wealth and income have been massively redistributed in California and the nation over the past three decades in the wrong direction.

So, CFT is suggesting that the wealthy among us are getting away scot-free, but a look at national numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top 1 percent of income earners paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income.

Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.” The CBO also reports that “the top 20 percent of income earners (those earning over $74,000) paid 94 percent of federal individual income taxes, 85 percent more than the share of national income they earned.

CFT would also have us think that public education is underfunded, but as Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson pointed out recently:

Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K-12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

And what have we gotten for our increase in spending? A look at our latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores tells the tragic story. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Perhaps when CFT and their ilk are making their “fair share” accusations, they may want to reconsider. In 2011, the California Teachers Association – CFT’s bigger brother – issued a press release (H/T Mike Antonucci) which announced its “support of the nationwide ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement for tax fairness and against corporate greed.” It goes on to say, “…a stable tax structure begins with everyone paying their fair share.”

Paying their fair share? Everyone?

The unions really have hit a new low here. According its latest available income tax form, CTA took in $185,222,341 in 2010. As a 501(c)(5), the union has a special tax exempt status with the IRS which is accorded to “Labor, Agricultural, and Horticultural Organizations.” So the union paid $0 in income taxes. (By comparison, CFT pulled in a measly $23,226,311 and also paid no tax.)

Our teachers unions – private corporations – take in over $200 million every year in forced union dues, pay not a penny in income tax, and yet want the rest of us to pay our “fair share.”

Have hypocrisy and hubris ever been more blatantly demonstrated?

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.