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It’s Janus in February

Public employee freedom case is set to be heard by SCOTUS on Feb. 26. Two months from today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Janus v AFSCME case, with a decision scheduled to be announced in June. If successful, it would free public employees in 22 states from having to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment.

After Janus

Right-to-Work on the Move

Forced Unionism Is Rearing Its Ugly Head in D.C.

Not content with forcing traditional D.C. public school teachers to join the Washington Teachers Union, the rapacious WTU is now trying to get its hooks into charter schools.

Last week, Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, announced his intention to push for legislation that would force charter school teachers in the nation’s capital to become unionized. (Charter schools are public schools that can bypass certain rules and regulations — including union contacts — if they can produce certain prespecified results.) As things stand now in D.C., unlike their traditional public school brethren, charter school teachers don’t have to join the union. But according to Saunders,

his members are concerned they will lose their union-negotiated contracts when DCPS closes some of its campuses next fall and teachers look to charter schools for jobs. The school system recommended Tuesday that 20 schools close at least temporarily and consolidate with other traditional neighborhood schools.

The 20 schools that are closing are doing so because they are bad enough for parents to want to send their kids elsewhere…like to charter schools. Therein lies the problem for Mr. Saunders: 41 percent of kids in D.C. presently attend these innovative schools and fewer unionized teachers mean less money and power for the American Federation of Teachers local. Clearly, Saunders needs the legislation to force charter school teachers to join his union because he knows that most of them don’t want to. (Nationally, only about 12 percent of charter school teachers belong to a union.)

In fact, the main reason teachers go to work in charter schools is that they like the freedom that these schools offer… including freedom from top-down restrictive union contracts that dictate a teacher’s every move. (D.C. teachers are lucky; their contract is “only” 114 pages long. In Los Angeles, the union contract weighs in at a flatulent 349 pages.) Also, as Stanford Professor Terry Moe has pointed out, a union dominated school system often ignores the needs of children. And considering that on the latest 4th grade NAEP math test, D.C kids came in dead last in the country, maybe we need to pay more attention to them.

In this brief video put out by the California Charter School Association, we hear teachers explain why they like to teach in a less restrictive setting:

  • I feel like an innovator.
  • We have more freedom and can be more creative.
  • We can be places that empower teachers.
  • Charters are the result of people saying, “This isn’t working; we want to try something different.”

While Saunders’ motivation is obvious, his success is anything but a slam dunk. As Emma Brown in the Washington Post reported, changing the law

…would require approval from the D.C. Council and Congress, which seems politically unlikely given a Republican-led House with little interest in helping teachers unions grow and strong bipartisan support for charter schools.

“I don’t see how it could be a worse idea, and it’s not going anyplace because the Congress will never approve it,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the pro-charter Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

The freedom to employ non-unionized teachers is part of what sets the charter movement apart from the traditional school system, Cane said.

Additionally, in response to the comment by Saunders that the union is “prepared to dedicate significant resources” to changing the law, Mike Antonucci  wrote,

That would be pretty scary if a) WTU had significant resources; b) charter schools didn’t have bipartisan support; and c) Republicans didn’t control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whether he is successful or not, Saunders’ quest highlights the unfairness and un-American nature of forced unionism that exists in 27 states and D.C. Interestingly, teacher union leaders are always telling its members how much they have done for them. But have they? To that end, I have asked many union supporters in non-right to work states over the years the following question:

“If unions are so good for teachers, why must you force them to join?”

I’m still waiting for an answer.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Knox vs. SEIU – A Reaffirmation

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

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

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

According to the Wall Street Journal,

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

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

The irony here is dazzling. Steve Greenhut notes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Misclassification of Workers: Common Ground or Hotbed of Greed?

“Misclassification of workers” refers to the practice by some businesses of classifying and utilizing workers as independent contractors instead of employees in order to avoid payroll taxes and insurance, and in an effort to increase margins and/or reduce costs. In some industries, this is done for the purpose of obtaining new contracts by being the low-cost bidder on the contract. Unfortunately, instead of utilizing salesmanship skills and providing high quality service and products, these companies choose to engage in this illegal practice to the detriment of:

  1. Their employees who are often underpaid, provided no benefits, and not paid for overtime hours worked,
  2. The federal, state, and local governments that lose out on payroll and income tax revenues, and
  3. Competitor companies who conduct their business with integrity and lose this business by being underbid.

By avoiding the costs associated with payroll taxes and liability and worker’s compensation insurance, businesses that misclassify workers realize a 20-30% price advantage in the marketplace. Illegitimate businesses are, sadly, aided and abetted by companies, many of whom are Fortune 500 companies, who encourage this practice by looking the other way and hiring them purely for profit motives. It truly is an underground economy which needs to be eradicated (See Underground Economy). Misclassification of workers, which historically has been more prevalent in the southern and border states where illegal aliens are often the victims of this practice, is rapidly becoming more common in northern states such as Indiana.

Interestingly enough, the Obama administration, federal, state, and local governments, big labor and legitimate businesses have some common ground with respect to misclassification of workers as independent contractors, albeit for very different reasons. Federal and state governments obviously have an interest because they are losing significant revenues, sorely needed in the current recession (See Efforts to Root Out Worker Misclassification Expand). The interest of legitimate businesses is due to the severe competitive cost disadvantage. Big labor’s interest is in organizing workers, which they cannot do if the workers are not employees. Finally, the Obama administration has interest in paying back big labor for its financial support.

Subsequently, the Obama administration has begun to take a serious look at this practice and appears intent on imposing fines on businesses who misclassify workers in an attempt to pacify big labor, which is disgruntled over the administration’s inability to pass EFCA or Card Check (See Government Cracks Down on Employee Misclassification and Criminal Penalties for Misclassifying Independent Contractors). Big labor and its puppet administration would have you believe it is for their favorite theme of social justice for workers, but in reality it is for financial gain through union membership, and ultimately for political power (See Unions Want Limits on Firms’ Use of Contractors).

It is truly ironic that elimination of such a controversial and illegal practice would be common ground for government, the Obama administration, big labor and legitimate businesses. It is sad that all the parties can’t agree; current laws, which are adequate to eliminate the problem, need to be enforced for the simple reason that misclassification is illegal and depresses wages and benefits for all American workers. Unfortunately, big labor and the administration see this as an opportunity to further their quest of imposing forced unionism through employer fines, which are exploited by unions in corporate campaigns to coerce companies into signing neutrality agreements. Neutrality agreements, in effect, accomplish Card Check as is vividly chronicled in The Devil at My Doorstep. So much for altruistic motives.

About the author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

The Ugly Consequences of Forced Unionism

A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has become the biggest political spender in the 2010 election campaign – thus far having spent $87.5 million. Two other public employee unions have chipped in another $84 million (Service Employees International Union – $44 million and National Education Association – $40 million). Therefore, in what has become a predictable pattern, public employee unions are the biggest outside contributors in the 2010 election cycle.

Perhaps the most egregious part of this massive political spending is that the bulk of it comes from the 28 “forced union” or Non-Right to Work states, as well as Washington D.C., where belonging to the union is a condition of employment.

While corporate political spending goes to both major parties, the unions’ money goes pretty much in one direction – to Democrats – about 93% of the time. Yet, according to Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, about 40-45% of workers in those unions vote Republican. Thus if you are a Republican, your dues very well may be going to someone you will be voting against.)

And it gets worse. Who pays these public employees? The American taxpayer. So very quickly, throughout much of the country, the money goes from the taxpayers pocket to the public employees, whose pocket is then picked by the union and spent on mostly Democrats who will make sure that money keeps flowing in the unions’ direction.

As writer Warner Todd Huston says,” That’s right, unions give politicians money to make favorable laws for unions. Politicians then make favorable laws for unions so that unions will give them even more campaign cash and unions oblige so that politicians can then give them even more favorable laws and regulations. It’s a vicious circle from which the voters are wholly cut out. It is an incestuous relationship that enriches the unions and the politicians at the expense of the taxpayers who don’t have any influence at all on the sweetheart deals going on.”

Bottom line – not only doesn’t the public employee get to choose where his/her money goes, neither does the taxpayer. But the chickens have finally come home to roost. The lavish pension deals that the unions have made with their bought-and-paid-for legislators are now wreaking havoc with state and municipal budgets all over the country — to the point where states going into default and cities declaring bankruptcy are not out of the question.

Legislators all over the country must start to deal with the bleak reality that they and their submissive predecessors have been hoodwinked by a cunning and bullying adversary. As such, either states must make joining a public employee union voluntary – thus minimizing their money flow — or as Houston says, “This country needs to again make public employee unions illegal like they were previous to 1958.”

About the author: Larry Sand 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.