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Good Fortune Shines on Teachers Unions

California’s teachers unions have been described as the most powerful force affecting state government. Recently, however, threats to the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have arisen on a number of fronts, yet over the last couple of weeks those threats seemed to be minimized by political pressure, apparent sympathetic judges, and even an act of God.

First came the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Before Scalia’s demise, he sat at the hearing of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged the union’s right to collect agency fees from all teachers to represent them in collective bargaining. Friedrichs and her teacher colleagues argued that all activities of CTA are political and therefore offering dues to the organization was backing a political agenda with which some teachers did not agree.

Most observers who watched the oral arguments believed that the Supreme Court would rule 5 to 4 in favor of Friedrichs, with Scalia a member of the majority. In other states in which public union members were given the freedom to withhold dues to their union there was a considerable drop-off in fees paid thus weakening the political influence of the unions. Many expected a similar result in California if the court supported the Friedrichs side.

However, with Scalia’s passing it is anticipated that the remaining justices will split on the Friedrichs case resulting in a 4 to 4 tie. If that occurs, the Appellate Court ruling that favored the teachers union will stand.

In another case, a challenge to teacher tenure rules was argued before a Los Angles state appellate court. In the Superior Court, Vergara v. California was decided in favor of nine public school students who argued that the current tenure laws and seniority rules harm school children particularly in poor communities. Lawyers for the students argued that bad teachers are difficult to fire and are often shifted to teaching positions in those poor communities. The teachers unions vociferously argued that eliminating the teacher tenure laws will weaken the profession.

Reports from the hearing last week before the appellate court indicated that two of the three judges expressed skepticism with the decision of Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. If the questioning were a reflection of the court’s thinking, the Vergara decision likely would be overturned.

It wasn’t just the courtroom where good fortune seemed to follow the teachers unions.

Last week, proponents for the anti-poverty property tax increase measure decided to pull the measure from petition circulation despite having over a million dollars to help qualify the initiative and a stack of petition signatures in hand. Had this property tax measure remained on the ballot, it could weigh down the campaign to pass the Proposition 30 income tax extension backed by the teachers unions.

The unions wanted the property tax gone for a couple of reasons.

One too many taxes on the ballot might convince voters that all taxes deserve a no vote. Property taxes are a local tax with a share of the property tax going to schools. Creating a state controlled property tax designated for purposes that exclude the traditional school funding was anathema to the unions. The teachers unions and their allies inside and outside the government put immense pressure on the initiative proponents to pull their measure.

Whether due to political pressure, sympathetic judges, or an act of God, good fortune shined on the teachers unions as they moved to preserve their powerful position in state politics.

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Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. This article originally appeared in Fox & Hounds and appears here with permission.

How Government Unions Are Destroying California

California was once the State that everyone looked up to. With the best weather and natural resources, we were full of hope and innovation. We had the best public schools, a world class system of higher education, the best freeways, infrastructure to provide fresh water to our growing population, which also doubled as a source of clean energy through hydro-electric power, a business-friendly environment where entire industries grew in entertainment, aerospace, and technology, making our economy virtually recession-proof.

Then in 1978, then-governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order that imposed union-shop collective bargaining on public agencies in California, and the rise of public sector union power began.

Today, public sector unions are the most powerful political force in our State. They control a majority of our State Legislature and might control a supermajority in November if a few swing districts fall their way.  No politician, Democrat, Republican or Independent, acts without considering how it will affect the union agenda.

These government unions press 100% for a progressive agenda, and they consistently agitate for increased spending. In two areas, the quality of our public education system, and the financial health of our cities and counties, the consequences of government union power have been catastrophic.

Public Schools

The teachers’ unions, usually a local affiliate of the California Teachers Association, control most of our school boards, leading to control of our public schools. It is more than a coincidence that our public schools rank near the bottom in every category in the fifty United States.

As lobbyists for staff and teachers, who are paid to run our public schools, public sector unions fight to maintain the status quo. They protect incompetent teachers, they permit excellent teachers to be dismissed in layoffs, they actively oppose charter schools, they fight poor parents who try to employ Parent Trigger Laws, and they conduct an active campaign 24/7 against any form of school choice.

The financial power of teachers unions:

  • There are over 266,255 public school teachers in California.
  • Each pays at least $1,000 in union dues annually.
  • The CTA acknowledges spending up to 40% of those dues explicitly on politics. That is $106 million per year.
  • If the lawyers in Friedrichs are right—that all public union spending is political—the actual total is $266 million per year.
  • Unions for non-teacher staff also are active. There are 215,000 school staff employees who are members of the CSEA (California State Employees Association), who each pay approximately $500 annually in dues. If all of those dues are spent on politics, that adds $107 million more for political spending annually.
  • The total spent by public education unions alone is estimated to be $373 million per year – just in California.

Pensions

Police and firefighter unions do the most damage at the local level. They have attained unsustainable pensions, known as “3%@50”, meaning that a member of that bargaining unit is eligible at age 50 for a pension equivalent to 3% of his highest salary times their number of years of service. While the age of eligibility has been raised for new public safety employees entering the workforce, the vast majority of active police and firefighters still retain these “3%@50” benefits. So at age 50, a 20-year veteran can retire with a pension equivalent to 60% of their highest year’s salary, which can be manipulated through spiking, and a 30-year veteran is eligible for 90% of his or her highest salary.

These pension requirements are held under the “California Rule” to be irreversible. In other words, once they have been adopted, democracy is incapable of turning off the spigot. With the spigot running constantly, communities go bankrupt. First, they cut other services. Then they increase taxes. Then they refuse to pay bondholders, so no one will invest again.

Current unfunded liabilities in California:

At CalPERS: $93.5 billion (ref. page 120, “Funding Progress,” CalPERS 6-30-2015 financial report).

At CalSTRS: $72.7 billion (ref. page 118, “Funding Progress,” CalSTRS 6-30-2015 financial report).

Local Unfunded Liabilities add considerably to this total, since CalPERS, with assets of $301 billion, and CalSTRS, with assets of $158 billion, only constitute 62% of California’s $752 billion in state and local pension fund assets. If all of these systems in aggregate were 75% funded, which is probably a best case estimate given the poor stock market performance since the official numbers were released, the total unfunded pension liabilities for California’s state and local government workers would be $256 billion.

And $256 billion in unfunded liabilities, a staggering amount, still understates the problem for two reasons: First, these pension funds may not succeed in securing a 7.5% average annual return in the coming decades. If not, then they will not earn enough interest to prevent their funding ratios from getting even worse. Also, this doesn’t take into account “OPEB,” or “other post employment benefits,” primarily health insurance. The unfunded OPEB liability just for Los Angeles County is officially recognized at over $30 billion.

A realistic estimate of the total unfunded liabilities for retirement obligations to state and local workers in California is easily in excess of $500 billion. These benefits, which are financially unsustainable and far more generous than the taxpayer funded benefits available to ordinary private sector workers, were forced upon local and state elected officials through the unchecked p0wer of government unions.

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Bob Loewen is the chairman of the California Policy Center.

Friedrichs vs. the CTA Ruling Could Restore Free Speech Rights of Government Workers

In less than one week the U.S. Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, to determine whether unions can force public employees to fund speech through collective bargaining with which they might disagree. The case could result in a landmark decision impacting the First Amendment rights of millions of public sector workers nationwide. The California Policy Center joins hundreds of other organizations and millions of individual activists in urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

If the justices rule in favor of Friedrichs, the decision would not only take away government union’s ability to get public employees who do not pay them fired in the half of the states – most definitely including California – which do not have right-to-work, but would allow public workers to opt out of their union without needing to renew their objection every year. Here in California, the decision, which is expected in June 2016, would impact well over 1.0 million state and local public employees who are currently unionized.

The Friedrichs case rests on the argument that anything and everything that public employee unions negotiate is inherently political. We couldn’t agree more. To state an obvious example, negotiations between unions and elected officials over public employee pensions and pay are arguments over how elected officials should use public money – an inherently political question. Conceding to demands for higher salaries during an economic downturn – or at any time, for that matter – is a political choice. When public employees make more, either other services are cut, or taxes are increased. These are political decisions, not mere employer/employee issues.

While how public agencies spend taxpayers’ money is obviously a matter of public policy, the work rules negotiated by government unions also are inherently political. Union negotiated rules governing California’s system of public education provide examples of this in the form of “lifetime tenure” – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit. Conscientious teachers can be forgiven for believing these union rules, among others, are public policy decisions, inherently political, that have harmed California’s children. Yet they are forced to pay to support the unions who negotiated these rules.

The Friedrichs case, despite an avalanche of well-funded propaganda from unions, is not about whether or not unions even belong in the public sector. The point of the Friedrichs case, again, is that everything that public sector unions negotiate for is inherently political. And because they are inherently political, public employees should not be forced to fund these unions if they don’t want to, because that is a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights. You don’t have to restrict the scope of your argument to the explicitly political activities of government unions to make this case. Because everything government unions do, everything they fight for, affects government policy.

As a result, members of government unions should not be merely permitted to opt-out of the acknowledged “political” portion of their union dues, the amounts spent on political campaigns and lobbyists. They should be allowed to opt-0ut of paying all of it, including the so-called “agency fee.” And because these unions have made the “opt-out” process a difficult bureaucratic ordeal, where members can only opt-out during a certain limited time each year, and have to do that over and over again in order to have the non agency fee portion of their dues refunded to them, year after year, paying union dues should instead depend on an “opt-in” process. This would mean the government unions themselves would have to obtain affirmative consent, year after year, in order to continue to collect dues from government workers.

Government unions are not just inherently political in everything they do. Their agenda is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses. Unlike private unions, government unions can demand pay and benefits without having nearly the same concerns about how that may impact the financial health of their organization. And unlike private unions, government unions run the government bureaucracy, which means they can more easily intimidate their opponents. For these reasons, perhaps the Friedrichs case doesn’t go far enough. But it’s a very good start.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

RELATED POSTS

The Unions’ Assault on Truth, November 3, 2015

California’s Official Antipathy to Educational Innovation and Accountability, August 11, 2015

Tough Education Reform, not More Borrowing and Spending, is What Students Need, August 4, 2015

The CTA Empire Strikes Back, July 28, 2015

Union Monopoly on California’s Public Education Remains Largely Unbroken, February 16, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Union Leadership Smear Teachers in Supreme Court Case

America’s most powerful union bosses are running a national smear campaign against 10 workers who fund their paychecks.

California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and nine of her fellow educators are being vilified by executives of the country’s largest labor unions — including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

Using money taken from workers’ paychecks, union bosses are portraying Friedrichs and her peers as allies of evil corporations and white supremacists.

AFT president Randi Weingarten has called Friedrichs part of an “assault on working people.” NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia has accused Friedrichs of “attacking working people.”

How did Friedrichs turn these self-styled champions of teachers against her? She is challenging their ability to take mandatory fees from non-members, in a case that has made its way before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The case was brought by billionaires and wealthy CEOs like the Koch brothers who want to rewrite the rules to only benefit them,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

America Works Together, a coalition run by NEA, AFT, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is trying to convince union members that Friedrichs will ruin their lives.

“Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is being pushed by special interests and corporate CEOs in an attempt to damage protections for hard working families and our communities,” the coalition warns.

Last week, the unions flooded their social media channels with a public relations blitz, calling the Friedrichs case an attempt by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch to destroy unions.

 

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America Works Together is gathering signatures for an AFT petition demonizing the Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit giving Friedrichs legal counsel. As of Monday, fewer than 18,000 people had signed the online petition.

Relying on research from a City University of New York union, America Works Together asserts CIR “has been funded by the Koch Brothers, other right-wing one-percenters, and even white supremacists.”

CIR president Terry Pell told Watchdog.org the unions are “complaining about imagined contributions to CIR” to distract from their own massive paychecks. America Works Together failed to respond to a request for comment.

Last year AFT paid Weingarten $557,875, AFSCME paid president Lee Saunders $348,745 and AFL-CIO paid Trumka $322,131. Eskelsen Garcia was paid $345,728 as NEA vice president — outgoing NEA president Dennis Van Roekel was paid $541,632.

“Neither of the Koch Brothers or their foundations supports CIR or are supporting Friedrichs v. CTA,” Pell said.

“This is a fight on behalf of public employees like Rebecca Friedrichs and millions of other everyday public employees who are forced to fund organizations that no longer represent their interests,” he explained.

Pell was not surprised to see unions portraying the Friedrichs case as “a corporate attack on workers” in interviews, social media posts, graphics and a propaganda film titled “The Right to Unite.”

“Rebecca Friedrichs is asking the Supreme Court to do away with state laws that force individuals to pay thousands of dollars a year to a union,” Pell said. “The unions have enjoyed millions of dollars in coerced dues from unwilling employees for decades.”

F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director at the free-market Mackinac Institute, told Watchdog.org the union smear campaign against Friedrichs shows labor bosses are terrified about the possibility of losing forced dues.

“It’s funny that the unions are saying Friedrichs is an attack on working people when it’s really about taking away the unions’ ability to get a worker fired,” Vernuccio said. “It is a protection of workers, not an attack on workers.”

If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, Vernuccio said, the effective result would be right-to-work for public employees in all 50 states. Twenty-five states already have right-to-work laws.

“Right-to-work simply means a union can’t get a worker fired for not paying them,” he explained. “It doesn’t affect collective bargaining in any other way — and it doesn’t affect a worker’s ability to form a union or join a union in any way.”

Calling the union PR campaign against Friedrichs “strange,” Vernuccio predicted “the justices will likely uphold the Constitution and workers’ First Amendment right to not support politics they disagree with.”

A decision in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association is expected in the spring.

About the Author:  Jason Hart is an Ohio-based labor reporter for Watchdog.org. He previously worked as a communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. Jason had several years of experience as a web developer and analyst before starting a successful career in journalism. Jason can be reached on Twitter at @jasonahart and by email at jhart@watchdog.org. This article originally appeared in Watchdog.org and is republished here with permission.

U.S. Supreme Court to Rule – Is Government Unionization a Free Speech Issue?

Since the Supreme Court has the power to stir up controversy like few other American institutions, public debate about government unionization is certain to intensify in coming months. This fall, the justices will take up Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which concerns the question of whether public sector workers can be required to pay “agency” fees to unions for collective bargaining expenses. Rebecca Friedrichs, an Orange County schoolteacher, believes that compulsory agency fees violate her First Amendment right not to subsidize speech to which she objects. Depending on how, and how broadly, the Court rules on this question, Friedrichs could be the most consequential labor case since at least the 1970s.

Allowing public employees to unionize has to be one of the worst policy ideas of the last 50 years. But to frame the issue as one of free speech is to overlook the fact that government unions do the greatest harm to the public, not individual government workers. Unions paralyze administrations, bankrupt cities, stifle local political life, and flout sovereignty. A ruling against the California Teachers Association would be a far greater victory for the cause of good government than for the First Amendment.

All discussion about public unions is shaped to some degree by labor’s decline in corporate America. Over the last three decades, private unions have lost members at a clip of roughly 150,000 per year on average. The collapse of private unions, a once reliable and wealthy constituency for the Democratic Party, has been an enormous political boon for public sector unions, because it increased demand for their resources. This decline has also neutralized Democrats’ ability to object to government unionization on principle. Back when the steel, coal, and autoworkers unions had real clout, many Democrats were openly opposed to expanding unions’ reach into the public sector. In a 1937 letter to the President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, President Franklin Roosevelt famously and forthrightly explained why “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” But, having just signed into law the National Labor Relations Act and spearheaded other union-friendly initiatives, FDR could say that without anyone accusing him of being anti-worker. Now, however, the Democratic Party can’t point to any significant achievements in strengthening unions, because no one has any good ideas about how to revive labor in the private sector. Their union bona fides are nothing like FDR’s were, so even Democrats who have serious misgivings about government unions’ right to exist must tiptoe around the point.

This is unfortunate, because Democrats, who hold most state and local offices in blue America, often grasp the nature of problem with special clarity. In Lessons of Hope, his memoir about serving as Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor, Joel Klein writes “[l]ike anyone who first encounters the teachers’ contract in New York City, I had trouble believing that certain parts of it were real.” Klein marveled at how poor teachers were not fired but “excessed.” Their jobs were eliminated “ostensibly through no fault of [their] own,” and they were sent off to find and claim an open position at some other unfortunate school, against the wishes of that school’s principal and even if it meant bumping a new teacher out of a job. (An annual ritual in many school systems, this “dance of the lemons” practice is featured in the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman.) Never having worked in city government before, Klein was continually amazed at the United Federation of Teachers’ stunts, but these bizarro-world labor rules have been in place for years, among a variety of professions, and across the unionized public sector. Buzz Bissinger relates in his 1998 book A Prayer for the City that the Philadelphia Police Department “couldn’t hire sketch artists but instead under union rules had to give police officers art lessons.”

Unions have placed onerous workforce regulations into contracts through collective bargaining negotiations as well as into state laws by applying political pressure. Both tactics are daunting to overcome. Unlike with agency fees levied for collective bargaining purposes, a union non-member can opt-out of funding what the Supreme Court calls “political or ideological projects.” But, under current law, unions are allowed to collect dues for these purposes unless workers explicitly object. Since only a small percentage go to the trouble of doing so, the money keeps flowing in. The Center for Responsive Politics maintains a list of the “Top Organization Contributors” to federal political campaigns, parties, and other groups since 1990. Three out of the top six slots are occupied by government unions. Unions’ “taxing power” is an even more effective weapon on the state and local level. In 2012, California voters nixed Proposition 32, which would have prohibited unions from automatically deducting dues intended for political purposes. Unions and their allies spent $73 million to defeat this ballot initiative, $21 million from the California Teachers Association alone.

As for reforming workforce regulations via collective bargaining, the problem there is that almost nothing comes for free. Even changes with overwhelming public support often must be offset by some compensating financial advantage. In 2007, the autopsies of two Boston firefighters who died in a fire revealed traces of alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana. City government moved during the next bargaining round to institute random drug and alcohol testing for all firefighters but was thwarted until, following an arbitrator’s ruling, it agreed to grant a quid pro quo pay increase of 1.5 percent.

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In California the average urban firefighter earns pay and benefits well in excess of
$200,000 per year. These unaffordable rates of pay make it impossible to hire
more firefighters, undermining their safety and the safety of the public.

City budgets are mainly devoted to salaries and benefits which are, in turn, determined by collective bargaining contracts. Authorizing collective bargaining in the public sector means creating entities not only with an incentive to maximize their own benefit at the expense of taxpayers, but, in the case of union leadership, a legal obligation to do so as well. To fail to push city budgets to the brink of insolvency, and sometimes beyond, is, for union leadership, tantamount to leaving money on the table. Though no local government has declared bankruptcy since Detroit in June 2013, the ongoing struggles of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools show that it’s only a matter of time before the next surge of municipal insolvencies. As Kristi Culpepper, a Kentucky state official and influential public finance analyst recently explained to Bloomberg, “Can you imagine a scenario where the CEO of a large corporation announced that the corporation is approaching insolvency, and the employees responded by asking for a raise? That is what is happening with Chicago Public Schools.”

A government with a unionized workforce is not truly sovereign; its commitment to the public is qualified by its legal commitment to accept collective bargaining. I once attended a city council meeting that took place while contract negotiations were underway and witnessed a series of the city’s duly elected officials stand up and publicly plead with union leadership to settle on reasonable terms. Who is in charge here?

Public employee unions are often likened to Tammany Hall, but the comparison is unfair—to Tammany Hall. For all their flaws, the old political machines reliably turned out voters and thus kept levels of civic participation high. During the era of rule by government union, local voting rates have plummeted. According to New York City’s Board of Elections, turnout in mayoral elections has declined from over 90 percent in the early 1950s to 26 percent in the recent 2013 election. Unions contribute substantially to voter apathy through bolstering one-party rule by Democrats. Far from being discontent over consistently uncompetitive elections and the lack of rival interest groups, unions celebrate their success at stifling local democracy: “We elect our bosses” boasts the American Federal State County Municipal Employees union in its promotional materials. Even at the height of their power, labor legends like Walter Reuther of the United Autoworkers and John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers of America could not have made that claim.

States could quickly restore sanity to government budgets and administrations by rolling back their public labor laws. But that’s unlikely. With the federalist solution to government unionization unavailing, it therefore falls to the Supreme Court to save states from themselves.

The Left’s tendency to see the argument against government unionization as an attack on all organized labor is somewhat understandable, in that conservatives do often conflate the cases against public and private labor. Conservatives oppose unions because a weaker labor movement means a weaker Democratic Party and, in their view, a stronger economy, and because “compulsory unionization” cannot stand as a matter of principle. The Right tends to insist that under no circumstances should any worker, ever, be required to pay a cent in dues or fees to a union to which he does not wish to belong. “Right-to-work” laws, such as exist in 25 American states, prohibit compulsory fees.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association argues for the essential justice of right-to-work within the government employment context by raising the question of whether states’ public labor laws violate the First Amendment, and in the Roberts Court it may find a receptive audience. The conservative justices, Alito in particular, have painted a target on Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which relied on earlier decisions about private labor disputes to uphold the constitutionality of agency fees for government workers. The Abood Court saw no reason why, if the avoidance of free-ridership and the promotion of labor peace justified the existence of the private-sector agency shop, the same reasons would not apply equally well in the case of Detroit’s public schools.

Justice Alito believes that the Abood Court was not sensitive enough to the First Amendment concerns surrounding the imposition of agency fees in the public sector. Why does the law protect a teacher’s right to withhold financial support from a campaign to protect seniority when her union pursues it through lobbying but not when it does so at the bargaining table? In recent jurisprudence regarding narrower public labor questions, Alito has gone out of his way to question Abood’s reasoning. Writing for a 7-2 majority in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 (2012), he stated that “The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers—to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts—is an anomaly.” And it’s not only agency fees that Alito has a problem with on First Amendment grounds, but also unions’ legal ability to rely on an “opt out” system of dues collection: “An opt-out system creates a risk that the fees paid by non-members will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree.”

Friedrichs contemplates a future in which government unions function in a manner somewhat like Planned Parenthood, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the National Rifle Association. These groups are often vilified for their political influence despite depending heavily, if not exclusively, on annual appeals to donors for their funding. Some conservatives even argue that right-to-work strengthens unions, because leadership must work harder to earn members’ dues. Perhaps. It’s difficult to imagine that public unions’ decline will be as precipitous as private unions’, if for no other reason than school districts aren’t economically vulnerable like the steel and auto industries were. Nonetheless, decades of experience with right-to-work states attests that unions are weaker when they lack the power to tax workers.

To put a human face on things, Friedrichs is about the firefighter who believes that, during contract negotiations, when city managers say they can afford a 2 percent but not a 5 percent raise, they’re being sincere and not just poormouthing, as his IAFF local alleges. Or the teacher who would be happy to accept a higher salary in exchange for less-stringent job protections, while watching union leadership pursue the opposite course funded by her agency fees. The agency fee regime is particularly unjust to young teachers who are compelled to financially support “last-in-first-out” (LIFO) contract provisions that explicitly threaten their own interests. Again, younger teachers can prevent unions from using their money to support LIFO through lobbying, but at the bargaining table they have no such right of refusal.

Compulsory agency fees should offend all freedom-loving Americans. That said, should the Court rule against Friedrichs, it would be a minor defeat for the First Amendment, but a catastrophe for future generations still burdened with trillions in pension debt, failing school systems designed to maximize benefits for their adult workforces rather than the children forced to attend them, and once-great cities bankrupted by rapacious compensation demands. These are the parties who have faced the full brunt of government unions’ strategy of “concentrated benefits, diffuse costs,” and thus have the most riding on Friedrichs’s outcome. After their decades-long run of systematically plundering state and local budgets, nailing government unions on First Amendment violations feels a bit like going after Al Capone for tax evasion.

About the Author:  Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership. Steve received his doctorate in political science in Boston College and previously was a Senior Research Associate at the Worcester Regional Research Bureau. His research focuses on public employee unions, retirement benefits, public finance, and urban policy. This article originally appeared in “The American Interest” and is published here with permission from the author.

The CTA Empire Strikes Back

Emperor Palpatine: There is a great disturbance in the Force.
Darth Vader: I have felt it.
Emperor Palpatine: We have a new enemy, the young Rebel…
Darth Vader: How is that possible?
Emperor Palpatine: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You know it to be true. He could destroy us. The Force is strong with him.
– Quote (edited for brevity) from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

There are indeed great disturbances in the force. There are indeed challenges to the imperial monopoly that, for nearly 40 years, has eroded the quality and escalated the costs for California’s system of public K-12 education. And the imperial stormtroopers who enforce their educational edicts on California’s state legislature, its thousands of public school boards, and by extension, millions of parents and children, are all part of an evil empire called the California Teachers Association, or CTA. In plain English, the teachers union.

A comprehensive summary of just how harmful the CTA has been to California’s young students can be found in a 2012 report “The Worst Union in America,” by Troy Senik, published in City Journal. Senik explains how it all began:

“The CTA began its transformation in September 1975, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Rodda Act, which allowed California teachers to bargain collectively. Within 18 months, 600 of the 1,000 local CTA chapters moved to collective bargaining. As the union’s power grew, its ranks nearly doubled, from 170,000 in the late 1970s to approximately 325,000 today. By following the union’s directions and voting in blocs in low-turnout school-board elections, teachers were able to handpick their own supervisors—a system that private-sector unionized workers would envy. Further, the organization that had once forsworn the strike began taking to the picket lines. Today, the CTA boasts that it has launched more than 170 strikes in the years since Rodda’s passage.”

With 325,000 members paying, on average about $1,000 per year, the CTA runs an empire sustained on dues revenue of over $25 million per month. This permits them to fund political campaigns, educational campaigns, and legal battles, with almost no constraints based on cost. They have enough money to fight on all fronts, everywhere, all the time. And they do.

Back to Troy Senik, on how back in 2010 the CTA squelched a parent trigger campaign by activist parents in Compton.

“In 2010, when 61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in the blighted L.A. neighborhood of Compton opted to pull the trigger, the CTA claimed that ‘parents were never given the full picture . . . [or] informed of the great progress already being made’—despite the fact that McKinley’s performance was ranked beneath nearly all other inner-city schools in the state. Several Hispanic parents in the district also said that members of the union had threatened to report them to immigration authorities if they signed the petition. Eventually, the Compton Unified school board—heavily lobbied by the CTA—dismissed the petition signatures, with no discussion, as ‘insufficient’ on a handful of technicalities, such as missing dates and typos.”

Pretty nasty stuff, from a union whose rhetoric emphasizes their concern “for the children” and the “working families.”

REBEL CAMPAIGN #1  –  PARENT TRIGGER LAWS

Which brings us to the latest disturbance in the force, this time in Anaheim, where Palm Lane Elementary School, failing academically, qualified as a parent trigger eligible school. But this time, despite being subjected to many of the same dirty tricks experienced by Compton’s activists, the Palm Lane activists managed to take the district to court, where, last week, they won. But, of course, the CTA Empire struck back. Take a look at this announcement on the CTA’s Facebook page (July 24, 7:59 p.m.):

“The Anaheim School District is appealing a judge’s flawed ruling in favor of a parent trigger effort based on outdated data and controversy over an administrative reassignment. The effort was organized in part by the law’s authors and has drawn support from political outsiders and extreme national figures including Newt Gringrich. Kudos to the strong members of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association who have worked fairly and openly to ensure that the local community has the facts regarding this flawed law and that parents who’ve been excluded from the process have a voice.”

Will the band of rebels in Anaheim have the resources to fight the union’s appeal? The union knows they can wear them down. Twenty five million dollars a month buys a lot of attorneys, along with state and local politicians.

But unlike in episode five of the famous Star Wars saga, the rebels aren’t just fighting on one planet. There’s trouble all over the galaxy.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #2  –  FRIEDRICHS VS. THE CTA

For example, later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case “Friedrichs vs. the CTA,” which challenges the right of government unions to charge mandatory “agency fees.” As it is, teachers can endure a laborious “opt-out” procedure to avoid paying the “political” portion of their dues, which is about one-third of the total dues. But they still have to pay the agency fees which pay for allegedly non-political activities such as educational programs. litigation, and collective bargaining. The Friedrichs case, and it’s a strong one, argues that collective bargaining with local governments is inherently political. To give you a taste of what sort of attitudes are spawned by the CTA Empire’s monstrous deluge of misleading us-vs-them rhetoric, here’s a comment posted on a UnionWatch article authored by Friedrichs, “Teachers Stand Against Union Tyranny“:

“…she is a plant who is voicing the concerns of the extremists in America who want to do away with the middle class and working poor. She is nothing more than a bought and paid for goon of the Koch brothers and groups like theirs. If I worked with this rat I would make her so unwelcome in so many ways that she would seek out the right wingers she has sold her soul too and leave teaching. She is a gutless, repugnant, two faced, scumbag. She needs a punch in her ugly lying face. What a skank.”

Wow. Funny how the reformers are so often tainted as “haters.” But apparently this is not the hate the stormtroopers are looking for, so they’ll move along now.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #3  –  VERGARA VS. CALIFORNIA

The galaxy is a big place. Rebellious planets abound. Along with Palm Lane and the Friedrichs case, working its way up the California appellate system is Vergara vs. California. The plaintiffs prevailed in this case in Los Angeles superior court last year, but a final decision may not come until 2016. Vergara argues that lifetime tenure – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit, have harmed California’s children. They further argue that these policies have a disproportionate negative impact on students from disadvantaged communities. Watch these closing arguments by the brilliant Marcus McRae, for everything you need to know about this important case.

Now take a look at how the CTA Empire struck back, in this excerpt from their press release announcing their plans to participate in an appeal to the Vergara ruling.

“From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. This lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.”

California’s state legislature is filled with politicians who are, with rare exceptions, either wholly owned by the CTA, or tepidly support reform but stop short when it counts so they can avoid being individually targeted by one of the CTA’s imperial cruisers. As a result, the courts are one of the only places reform can begin. But court battles can cost even more than political campaigns.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #4  –  BAIN VS. THE CTA

Nonetheless, here’s yet another rebellious planet in the CTA’s galaxy, lead by tireless reformer Michelle Rhee, in the form of “Bain vs. the CTA,” a case that argues the union cannot strip members of voting rights and discounted insurance benefits simply because they have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues. As education reformer Larry Sand writes for UnionWatch in his recent post “Bain Explained“:

“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.”

The legendary Star Wars movie saga has been producing installments longer than most Americans have been alive. In the moral debate over how to manage California’s schools, the only difference between the CTA and Palpatine’s empire is that complementing the overwhelming raw power wielded by the CTA, there is a propaganda machine of unmatched potency. Along with equipping rebel armies with attorneys, reformers will have to tap the force of truth and pay the freight to spread their message across the galaxy, telling it in terms that win the hearts of parents everywhere.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Union-dues case moves closer to Supreme Court

Sometimes you win by losing.

That’s precisely what occurred last week, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion by Rebecca Friedrichs’ attorneys to decide her case (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) on the basis of the pleadings, without a trial or additional oral arguments.

The “loss” actually means that plaintiffs – several California public school teachers – can immediately file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court without having to wait the one to two years it usually takes to get a case through the 9th Circuit before appealing to the Supreme Court. The Center for Individual Rights – counsel for Friedrichs and the other teacher plaintiffs – worked to expedite the proceedings. Essentially, they elected to “lose” in the lower courts, reinforcing their contention that only the Supreme Court has authority to grant them their petitioned relief.

The ruling was the result of a tactical maneuver by plaintiffs to get their motion for a decision on the pleadings in front of a motions panel that is assigned monthly to consider procedural motions rather than allowing it to languish until a panel could be assigned to hear the substantive appeal. The motions panel ruled there is nothing of substance to decide in Friedrichs because it is governed by past Supreme Court precedent, which the 9th Circuit is powerless to overturn.

According to plaintiff’s counsel Terry Pell, “This is a big development. It means we are within spitting distance of the Supreme Court. It also means that Friedrichs is all but certain to be the case where the court either allows compulsory dues to continue or ends the practice. It leaves no middle ground.”

Plaintiffs anticipate the court will take the case in spring 2015, with a 2016 decision.

Friedrichs involves a state’s right to require public employees, including teachers, to pay union dues, called “agency shop” laws. Twenty-six states, including California, require such. Friedrichs argues this violates free-speech rights.

Friedrichs has national implications. “This case is about the right of teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union. If we win, we will not just strike down the law in California but compulsory union-dues laws nationally,” Pell explained.

While California teachers are not required to join the union, they still must pay union dues, but they can get a refund of the approximately one-third of dues that CTA claims goes toward political action.

Plaintiffs argue the case concerns the First Amendment right of public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and financially support a union. Their case argues that collective bargaining activities are just as political as anything else the union does, and contend that the government cannot compel individuals to financially support the political positions taken by unions in collective bargaining negotiations.

CTA has argued that compulsory dues are needed to prevent employees from “free riding” – gaining the benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining on their behalf, without paying for them.

Last June, the Supreme Court stopped short of doing away with compulsory dues in a 5-4 ruling in Harris v. Quinn.

I recently opined on the outsized political influence CTA wields on California legislative policy and elections. With 325,000 members, and the collection of mandatory dues from members, it usually gets its way in the Capitol, and in most elections. If the Supreme Court rules that individual public employees are not bound to pay dues to their unions, CTA’s money chest – and its political hegemony – will be diminished, inextricably altering the balance of power in California.

This is the case that may decide it all: hence, all eyes are on it.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Anaheim Teachers Union Intimidates Their Members

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher and president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, summarized it succinctly: “Ah, the commissar has spoken from on high!”

The “commissar” is none other than the president of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association, Kristen Fisher, who dispatched an email to dues-paying union members on Oct. 6.

It seems that Fisher is more than a bit peeved that members are rejecting the union leader’s endorsements made significantly prior to the close of election filing periods. Some members are taking to the streets to walk precincts for the candidate of their choice, former principal Roberto Baeza, who was not even invited to a screening interview by the union’s Political Action Committee charged with making recommendations for endorsement. Further exacerbating Fisher’s frustration was that these members had the audacity to wear their own union T-shirts while talking to voters about why they believed Baeza would be the better representative for students – as well as teachers.

Apparently, the wearing of T-shirts emblazoned with the union logo was just too much bucking of union status quo interests, causing Fisher to issue her directive – from on high – in a mass email blast to all members.

On Oct. 6 she issued the strident reprimand, writing in part:

“AEEA officially endorse(d) the candidates our high school counterpart (ASTA) endorsed. Please cease and desist engaging in activities that weaken our union – specifically, wearing AEEA T-shirts while walking for nonendorsed candidate(s). This is not about your freedom to support candidates of your choice. This is about our association, our union.”

It didn’t take long for members to challenge the reprimand, favoring the U.S. Constitution and First Amendment rights over Fisher’s order to stand down.

When asked about her reprimand, Fisher responded that she had “no concerns” about violating First Amendment rights. “This is about misrepresenting AEEA,” she argued. However, she admitted that AEEA has no policy on the rights of members to wear T-shirts with a union logo when campaigning for candidates other than those chosen by their own PAC.

Indeed, Frank Wells, California Teachers Association’s communications representative in Southern California also verified that CTA, with whom AEEA is affiliated, has no policy on the matter, even candidly expressing his view that Fisher’s email was a bit “extreme.” Nonetheless, he shared Fisher’s concern over the possibility of “misrepresentation” of the union when members campaign for nonendorsed candidates wearing the union T-shirt.

The leaked email, while pertaining to a local Anaheim school board race, raises implications of the rights of union members who in states like California are mandated by law to pay an annual membership assessment to the union to fund collective bargaining.

First Amendment rights have become a closely watched political and legal issue when funds are used for political candidates and causes which the members do not support. In fact, 10 California teachers, including lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs of Orange County, have sued CTA over this issue. If victorious, Friedrichs will ensure that individual members will have the right to opt in to the union, rather than being forced to find a way to opt out – facing the wrath and recriminations of leaders like Fisher along the way.

Friedrichs’ case is currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with expectations that it will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. Justice Samuel Alito has opined in other cases that “no person in the country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,” giving hope to the Friedrichs plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, AEEA members continue talking to voters about Baeza and their willingness to fight – as union members – to be respected, T-shirts and all.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Unions – The Biggest Bullies in the School House

There has been a great deal of public attention on the problem of bullying in our public schools. Issues such as possible causes as well as appropriate administrative and legal remedies have been hotly debated across the country by educators, parents and politicians with varying responses.

The focus of bullying heretofore has been limited to students. This narrow perspective misses the most egregious culprits: the unions. The teachers’ union is the focus of this article.

Teachers are compelled as a condition of employment to join the state as well as the national union and to pay an annual membership assessment of about one thousand dollars. The monies are used to fund collective bargaining, purchase liability insurance and support political causes and candidates that reinforce the union’s power and influence.

In California, these have amounted to massive sums that were used to defeat ballot initiatives inimical to the teachers’ union’s stranglehold on education. The contributions have funded the campaigns of strongly liberal Democrat candidates and to defeat measures against abortion rights and gay marriage. Germane to our thesis, this liberal bias does not reflect the fact that teachers tend to be conservative.

Most teachers who enter the profession are devoted to the education of young minds. They have the best interests of students as their foremost priority. Unions, in contrast, operate out of self-interest. Their top priority is the maintenance of union power, not the welfare of the teachers or students.

Unions strongly oppose any threats to that power such as ballot initiatives in support of school vouchers, charter schools, opportunity scholarships or Education Savings Accounts. They will marshal vast sums of money to quash them. Funded by forced union dues, teachers who dare to speak out against the union’s political positions are subject to intimidation. Most choose to remain silent rather than face censure and harassment.

The California Teachers Union spent $32 million to defeat Proposition 75, the measure which would have required members to consent to their dues being used for political purposes. Of the $50 million unions spent to defeat Proposition 32, a measure to prohibit the use of payroll deductions for political purposes, more than $20 million came from the annual dues paid to the CTA by its 325,000 members.

It is the forced support of radical organizations such as ACORN, People for the American Way, Media Matters, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU that support abortion and gay marriage that prompted Rebecca Friedrichs, a 27-year veteran elementary school teacher with deep Christian convictions, and nine of her colleagues to file a lawsuit against the CTA and the 3.5 million-member National Education Association for violating their rights of free speech and free association.

The lawsuit is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after Judge Josephine Staton reviewed the case and ruled that a lower court lacked the authority to overturn a Supreme Court precedent. Friedrichs is hopeful her case will be forwarded to the United States Supreme Court.

The legal arguments of her brief have interesting precedents. In the standard organization, membership is on a voluntary basis. In unions, it is not. Tremendous pressure is applied to employees to become members. The level of intimidation and censure is difficult to resist.

Public employees in the federal government were barred from organizing prior to an executive order by President John F. Kennedy. In California, it was Ronald Reagan who granted that right to state employees and Jerry Brown, to teachers.

Non-members are required to pay union dues, called agency fees, because they benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining efforts. This was clarified in a 1977 ruling by the Supreme Court, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which stated the funds were precluded from being used for ideological or political purposes.

Reality differs from legal dictum. The National Education Association is the largest single contributor to the Democrat party, state and federal elections and liberal causes. Members’ dues are used primarily to expand the union’s political power and influence.

The July 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn opened the door to the merit of the complaint by Friedrichs et al. SCOTUS ruled that it was unconstitutional to require non-union Illinois home health care workers to pay union dues.

Justice Samuel Alito added that “no person in the country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” His implicit meaning that public employee unions are inherently political organizations suggests that SCOTUS will look favorably on Friedrichs’ complaint.

There is now a zero tolerance policy toward bullying in public schools. The policy should be extended to the biggest bully of all. An unlikely David to do battle with the union Goliath to hold them to the same standard, we wish the diminutive Mrs. Friedrichs well.

About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

Putting The Brakes On Unions' Free Ride On Employee Dues

Echoing the union party line, the recently termed-out president of the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel, insists that all workers in a unionized industry should be required to pay union dues, their so-called “fair share.”

Speaking about the nation’s 3 million teachers, he says:

“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.”

Sounds reasonable, right? But what Van Roekel and other union bosses fail to mention is that the unions demand exclusive bargaining rights for all teachers, so teachers in monopoly bargaining states have no choice but to go along with the union mandate. They are not allowed to negotiate their own contracts or hire a third party to bargain for salary, perks, etc.

There is nothing “fair” about forcing a worker to pay dues to an organization that he or she does not want to belong to. Yet this is the rule in 26 of our 50 states.

But there was an encouraging note in a recent Supreme Court decision. On June 30, the Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home health-care workers could not be forced to pay “agency fees” to the Service Employees International Union.

The agency fee is the part of union dues that goes toward collective bargaining and related activities. (As per the Court’s 1977 Abood decision, workers do not have to support the union’s political advocacy.)

Justice Samuel Alito added that for public sector workers, all collective bargaining issues are inherently political. This part of the ruling leaves the door open for the court to take the next step and make public employee union membership optional nationwide.

In fact, there is a case waiting in the wings that could lead the court to take that step. Friedrichs et al v. CTA is on a path to reach the Supreme Court within a year or two. This litigation has 10 teachers and the Christian Educators Association International — a union alternative — taking on the California Teachers Association.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers are challenging California’s “agency shop” law, siding with Alito that collective bargaining is by its nature political and that all union dues should be voluntary.

In the meantime, many workers continue to pay forced dues throughout most of the country. But what many in the monopoly bargaining states don’t know is that while they must pay the agency fee, they do not have to support the union’s political spending, which invariably goes in only one direction — left.

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. This article originally appeared in Investors Business Daily and is republished here with permission from the author.