AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.
The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.
Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.
And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:
Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….” (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)
So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.
A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.
Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.
If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.
For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
A bill, near passage, would require you and me to pay for union indoctrination sessions in California.
California is a fabulous place. Fantastic weather, fertile fields, glorious mountains and a thousand mile coastline have long beckoned many to the Golden State.
And then there is the state legislature.
This law-making body is very far from fabulous. Its main activities in our one-party state are taxing, spending and regulating our business community, workers and economy to death. Additionally, many of its members are in the pocket of the California Teachers Association, which is by far the biggest political spender in the state, unleashing $290 million on candidates and causes between 2000 and 2013.
The latest legislative sop to the unions is AB 2835, a CTA-co-sponsored bill that, if it passes, will force local governments, including school districts, to provide 30-minute in-person orientations, paid for by the taxpayer, to each and every new public employee during work hours within the first two months of their being hired. But as pointed out by several government officials in a piece that ran in the East Bay Times recently, cities, counties and special districts already do that, spending “the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.”
However, AB 2835 goes way beyond that, requiring local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation it provides – for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost no restrictions, to new employees. “It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.”
This requirement would place an enormous administrative burden on government, and it won’t come cheap. The California State Department of Finance has estimated that the mandate would cost taxpayers “more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”
AB 2835 would especially pose logistical problems for schools because the 30 minute orientation sessions would be held during the work day. Colleges, which have numerous collective bargaining units, would be especially affected. As the Association of California Community College Administrators points out, allowing each collective bargaining unit 30 minutes to make a presentation, “will result in a significant length of time, which will require colleges to hire additional staff to cover classes and other critical campus safety services during the orientations.”
Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by a gaggle of labor organizations. In addition to CTA, the California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and SEIU are behind it. The opposition includes the California School Boards Association, the League of California Cities and the Association of California School Administrators.
Just as onerous as the cost and disruptiveness will be the quality of the orientation session. This is going to be a hard sales pitch, plain and simple. Or, in less polite terms, indoctrination. I guarantee that the results of a study released in April by the Heritage Foundation – which found that between 1957 and 2011, mandatory collective bargaining costs a family of four between $2,300 and $3,000 a year – will not be a topic of discussion.
Also missing from the pitch will be a recent study by Cornell researcher Michael Lovenheim. He found that “laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.”
Will the orientation stress that collective bargaining creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers? Or that it decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making? Or that it protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change? Or that it restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees? Nah.
AB 2835 was birthed when CTA leaders were frightened that the Friedrichs decision was going to go against them and decided they needed to deliver a sales pitch to teachers who would no longer be forced to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. But with Antonin Scalia’s death and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to rehear the case, this bill is irrelevant; CTA and the smaller California Federation of Teachers still have a captive audience. Just about every public school teacher in the state will continue to be forced to pay a union if they want a job in a public school. But if CTA and other unions still insist on trying to convince prospective members of their value, they should do it after hours and not ding the taxpayer in the process.
The bill sailed through the California State Assembly and now rests in the State Senate where it must be voted on by August 31st – tomorrow, for it to become law. So, if you live in the Beholden State, please contact your state senator immediately and keep your fingers crossed. And should the bill become law, prepare for even more money to be transferred from your wallet to the unions’ already healthy coffers.
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.
An open letter to the idealistic teacher in Chicago who may have defied the teachers union by not striking on April 1st.
In a recent newspaper article you said you were “morally and ethically” against the Chicago Teachers Union one-day strike (or “Day of Tantrum,” according to a Chicago Tribune op-ed) last Friday and that loyalty to your students trumps loyalty to the CTU. A like-minded teacher said she’s furious about the whole thing and is concerned about the message this sends to students. “We’re there to teach and set a good example. This sets a horrible example. I think we are being used as pawns to get legislation passed,” she said.
While there are undoubtedly issues that need to be dealt with, you realize that a “job action” is really not the best way to get what you want. If making noise to focus attention on the issues at hand is necessary, that could have been handled at the rally already planned for downtown Chicago late afternoon Friday. Enraging rush hour commuters is bad enough, but using kids as pawns to draw attention to your grievances is really pathetic.
And what did you get for your idealistic stance against the union bosses? They threatened to banish you from CTU!
But is that really a bad thing? Thousands of teachers all over the country don’t join the union at all, or join and then leave, and are none the worse for it. When I quit UTLA here in Los Angeles, my professional life suffered not a whit.
And maybe you know that of the 50 largest school districts in the country, after working five years, Chicago teachers are already the highest paid.
And maybe you feel that the district shouldn’t have to “pick up” seven percent of the nine you are supposed to pay for your own pension.
And maybe you don’t think it’s fair that Chicagoans were recently hit with a massive $700 million tax hike and already face the highest per-capita tax burden of any residents in Illinois’ major cities.
And maybe you’re tired of the silly teacher union mantra that unionization is important so that you can “advocate” for your kids. As a non-union member, I certainly advocated for my kids as much as I did when I was in the union. What decent teacher wouldn’t? In this instance the union is hardly advocating for kids, it is abandoning them.
And maybe you think that laying off 17 teachers to help balance the books isn’t so awful. In actuality it would be a good thing if it were 17 of the poorest performers. But thanks to CTU and other unions, these layoffs are determined by seniority, not teacher quality.
And maybe you have had it with union-style bullying. Despite all their empty talk about the evils of kids bullying other kids, CTU leadership told union delegates to “take attendance” at the picket sites on Friday morning and to “monitor all school entrances.” Hopefully the thuggish threats didn’t deter you.
Maybe you have come to see the forced dues scheme to be nothing more than, as AEI’s Rick Hess suggests, extortion. You are forced to pay over $1,000 a year to an organization that you think not only doesn’t represent you but frequently goes against many of your core beliefs.
And maybe you are annoyed by union leaders’ lies, exaggerations and empty rhetoric. As you know, not only are you forced to pay dues to the Chicago Teachers Union as a condition of employment, your hard-earned dollars also support CTU parent, the American Federation of Teachers. After the Supreme Court failed (only due to Scalia’s death) to decide on the Friedrichs case, the AFT website stated, “This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court.” What?! All a decision for the plaintiffs would have done is allow voluntary public employee union participation. The National Education Association is even worse, committing a double whopper in a recent press release. It claims “In Friedrichs Decision, Supreme Court Reaffirms Collective Bargaining.” Ridiculous. First of all, collective bargaining was never an issue in Friedrichs. Moreover, the Court didn’t reaffirm anything. The vote split 4-4, which means that SCOTUS let a lower court opinion stand. But with teachers unions, truthfulness and clarity are only occasional events.
You may want to consider getting a job at a charter school. Few are unionized and none are associated with CTU. One-hundred-thirty charter schools, including 70 high schools, went on with business-as-usual Friday in Chicago. No, CTU doesn’t ignore charters; their focus is on restricting them. As soon as the strike issues are resolved, the union will resume their effort to minimize charter authorizations in the Windy City.
In the newspaper article, you were quoted as saying, “The only thing I’ve gotten out of the union is a pocket calendar.” Consider yourself lucky. In 1975, when I was a union member, I was laid off from my 6th grade teaching position in Harlem. New York City was going through tough fiscal times and, as a new hire, I was one of the first to be let go. I may not have been the greatest teacher in the world, but I was a heck of a lot better than some who were retained. So I lost my job because of the union mandated “last-in, first-out” regimen.
If you are worried that you will lose your voice and your union-supplied liability insurance, fear not. There are other organizations – professional organizations – that can fill those needs. Why not try the Association of American Educators or the Christian Educators Association? You will save money and be a part of a group that truly cares and supports good teachers and kids. And I promise you they will never use threats and coercion against you, should you decide to follow your conscience. And who knows – they might even throw in a pocket calendar.
Positioning themselves as strict Constitutionalists, teacher union leaders cry foul over a precedent that the unions helped create.
In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s untimely passing, two national teacher union leaders are in a self-righteous snit because the Republican-led Senate is remaining firm in its conviction to hold off consideration of a new Supreme Court nominee until President Obama’s successor takes office. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García pontificated, “… some senators are speaking and acting as if their oaths and the Constitution are only suggestions and not promises that they make – and attest they will keep – to voters. How else can we explain the downright refusal of some Senate Republicans to do their jobs when it comes to filling the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court?”
Not to be outdone, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten harrumphed, “As we teach high school government students, the Constitution is crystal clear about what to do when there’s a Supreme Court vacancy: The president of the United States nominates a candidate for the bench, and the Senate provides advice and consent.” She then informs us, “The Constitution does not say the president shall nominate a justice—unless it is the fourth year of his term.”
Weingarten finishes with a flourish, “For the last seven years, Senate Republicans have attempted to block President Obama at every turn, with no regard for the damage they inflicted on American families. Their stubborn refusal to consider a nominee puts politics over responsibility and, in so doing, dishonors our Constitution….”
As the union leaders rant about the Constitution, their knowledge of recent history comes up short. First of all, as genuine Constitutional scholar Ilya Shapiro points out, no Justice has been nominated and confirmed during a presidential-election year since before World War Two. He reminds us that Justice Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, “but (a) he was nominated in the year before and (b) this was President Reagan’s third attempt to fill a vacancy that originated in July 1987.” Shapiro adds that “while some may argue that it’s somehow ‘illegitimate’ or even unconstitutional for the Senate not to provide its ‘advice and consent’ as specified under Article II, Section 2, there’s simply no basis to conclude that this provision constitutes an obligation to act on presidential nominations.”
Additionally, the modern politicization of SCOTUS was not a plot hatched by evil Republicans. In fact, it all began when Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to fill a seat vacated by retiring Justice Lewis Powell in 1987. All hell broke loose in the Senate as Bork, a strict Constitutionalist, was viciously excoriated by Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and others. The vilification was a nonstop assault with every liberal group imaginable, including the NEA, piling on. At the yearly NEA convention in 1987, a teacher solemnly claimed that Bork is a “compulsory pregnancy man” and is “too conservative on race, women’s rights and reproductive freedom.” The 8,000 NEA delegates meeting in Los Angeles then voted overwhelmingly to oppose him.
With every liberal group in the country clamoring for Bork’s head, his nomination was defeated with Joe Biden, then head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading the way. In fact, when George H.W. Bush was running for reelection in 1992, Biden asserted, “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway — and it is — action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process.” (Emphasis added.) There was no union pushback.
In case there was any doubt about the Democrats obeisance to the “Biden Rule,” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer reaffirmed it in July, 2007, insisting that no George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court should be approved, “except in extraordinary circumstances, 19 months before a new president was set to be inaugurated.” (Emphasis added.) Again, the unions were silent.
But now, after 30 years of massive politicization of SCOTUS, courtesy of Democrats with NEA’s blessing, the “Biden Rule” has been invoked by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell in the wake of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court by President Obama, and two teacher union leaders are demanding that we need to depoliticize the process! They were perfectly comfy with the rule, of course, when it worked for them. But now that the other side is invoking it, they want to kill it. (File this in the already bloated “Teacher Union Hypocrisy” folder.)
And why are the unions so interested in getting Obama’s allegedly moderate pick, Merrick Garland, on the Court? Because, as Bill McMorris writes, he has a history of showing deference to federal labor regulators in reviewing unfair labor practice charges against employers. “An analysis conducted by OnLabor found that Garland ruled in favor of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a top federal labor arbiter, in 18 of 22 appeals that appeared before his court. Garland granted the agency leeway in interpreting its regulatory approach and interpretation of its mission.”
And of course a labor-friendly judge is just what the doctor ordered for NEA and AFT. In all likelihood, he’d become the fifth “no” vote in the Friedrichs case, thus leaving the Abood decision in place, forcing teachers and other public employees in half the country to continue to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.
As is quite apparent, the teacher union leaders really don’t give a flip about the Constitution. What they do care about is preserving their inordinate power and their prodigious gravy train. Thankfully, the Republicans are holding tight and have turned a deaf ear to this latest occurrence of union deceitfulness.
An education free market stalwart leaves us way too soon.
On February 7th, Andrew Coulson tragically passed away at age 48 from brain cancer. As Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Cato Institute, he led the charge for free market reforms in education. An unapologetic capitalist, he believed that the market would inevitably lead to better educational outcomes for all kids. And it was really more than a belief. When the former computer engineer saw a problem, he got busy tinkering under the hood to see what the problem was and how best to fix it.
Coulson was a kind, brilliant man whose sense of humor was always at the ready. His colleagues, Jason Bedrick and Neal McCluskey, found him to be “almost impossibly sunny.” Even those coming from a very different political/education angle appreciated and respected him. Reformer Doug Tuthill, a one-time union leader and self-described liberal Democrat, said of him, “Andrew loved facts and logic. He had an engineer’s mind and was relentlessly methodical in laying out his arguments. I appreciated his commitment to civility and rationality in private and public discourse, and was always influenced, if not persuaded, by his reasoning and facts.”
Before I met Coulson in 2010, we had a brief email relationship, and in 2009 he sent me a copy of “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education,” a paper he wrote for the Cato Journal. While the teachers unions are quick to impress upon the world how much they do for teachers, they never get around to telling you specifics. Oh sure, they go on about salary and benefits, but are their claims true? Coulson, using piles of data, cut through union happy talk and left us with a very different view.
One of the claims of the teachers unions is that collective bargaining is the life-blood of the union movement, but Coulson handily debunks that. While collective bargaining has some effect on teacher salaries, it is not nearly as great as is commonly assumed.
Coulson cites Stanford economist Carolyn Hoxby who suggests that the real union wage premium is somewhere between zero and 10 percent. Looking at rural Pennsylvania districts, economist Robert Lemke found the public school union wage premium at 7.6 percent. Cornell’s Michael Lovenheim looked at three Midwestern states and concluded that “unions have no effect on teacher pay.” Coulson clarifies that salary hikes have all undeniably occurred, but “they have occurred in both unionized and nonunionized public school districts.”
So if salary hikes (and other collective bargaining goodies) haven’t done much for union members, what have the unions accomplished for their teachers? Coulson maintained it protects them from having to compete in the educational marketplace.
Another great Coulson contribution came in the one (that I am aware of) interchange between Andrew and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and it didn’t work out too well for the union leader. In 2011, she wrote an insufferable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which she claims that “Markets Aren’t the Education Solution.” Coulson responded with “Dear Ms. Weingarten: I’ll Show You Mine if You’ll Show Me Yours,” in which he wrote he’d “prefer to reach policy conclusions based on empirical research.” As Coulson pointed out, Weingarten came to her conclusion “based on the testimony of a few foreign teachers’ union leaders and government officials who… run official government education monopolies.” Coulson produced a most interesting chart that clearly shows how many studies favor education markets over state school monopolies, and vice-versa, in each of six outcome areas.
Not surprisingly, Weingarten didn’t (because she couldn’t) deliver a rejoinder.
Coulson nails the subject: “The NEA and AFT spend large sums on political lobbying so that public school districts maintain their monopoly control of more than half a trillion dollars in annual U.S. k-12 education spending. And since both the U.S. and international research indicate that achievement and efficiency are generally higher in private sector—and particularly competitive market—education systems, the public school monopoly imposes an enormous cost on American children and taxpayers.”
To further bring Coulson’s thesis to light, one only needs to look at recent events. A small sampling:
- In Los Angeles, the teachers union just asked for – and got – a got a 30 percent dues increase from its members. It’s rallying cry? “We need the money to battle foes of traditional public education.”
- In Jefferson County, Colorado, a “parent” group led the charge to get rid of a school board majority “with an extreme anti-public education agenda.” In reality, it wasn’t parent-led, it was union-led. The National Education Association and its state and local affiliates fully subsidized an ugly and unfortunately successful campaign to unseat the NEA-dubbed “right-wing school board.
- In New York City, the unions are on an eternal mission to cripple Eva Moskowitz’s highly successful (non-unionized) charter franchise.
Coulson’s research led him to understand that we are “paying dearly for the union label, but mainly due to union lobbying to preserve the government school monopoly rather than to collective bargaining.” The good news is that because of Andrew Coulson and other school choice warriors, that monopoly is unraveling, albeit very slowly.
One final note: Losing Coulson was blow for those of us who are desperately trying to minimize the damage done by the teachers unions and the government education monopoly. But there was a second death of note last week. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away this past Saturday. The Friedrichs decision, which presumably would have favored the plaintiffs 5-4, is now on hold. In all likelihood, a vote on the case, which could kill mandatory union dues, hasn’t yet been taken and the result of the remaining Justices’ vote will probably be 4-4, leaving the current Abood decision in place. The plaintiffs’ best hope is that the case gets held until a new SCOTUS Justice is appointed – and that the appointee is not named by either the current president, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
In any event, we lost two great freedom fighters last week. Their life’s work must continue; it’s up to all of us to dig in and ensure that their efforts have not been in vain.
In the Friedrichs case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the core of union-supporters’ argument is that government employees should be forced to pay fees to a union because they benefit from union activities. Not paying the union, they say, makes an employee a free rider.
Or, as The Atlantic put it recently: “Rebecca Friedrichs is not a member of the union, but, like many other public employees, is required to pay a so-called agency fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining and other negotiations with the school district — union activities that all teachers, even nonunion teachers like Friedrichs, benefit from in the form of higher salaries and better benefits.”
It is true that union members can benefit from union actions. But not all of them.
In fact, Rebecca Friedrichs says in a video profile that one of the major disputes between her and her local union was over the issue of using a “last in, first out” policy for teacher retention. In her district, the union was pushing for pay raises for teachers, but to pay for those raises, the district would be forced to lay off some teachers. According to the union contract, the teachers to be laid off would not be the ones deemed the least effective, but simply the ones with the least experience.
Friedrichs says the union’s insistence on getting pay raises for some members forced the district to lay off excellent teachers, including a few whom she had invested time and energy in mentoring. She says these teachers were loved by parents, their colleagues and even administrators. Her suggestion to the union was for all teachers to take a small pay cut in exchange for all teachers being able to keep their jobs. The union wouldn’t listen to her and insisted on bargaining for pay raises despite the fact that it would mean good teachers would be laid off and everybody else would get increased class sizes.
The union members who were laid off certainly did not benefit from union activities. And the other teachers in the district who agreed with Rebecca Friedrichs — that a small pay cut was worth keeping good teachers on staff and maintaining current class sizes — didn’t benefit either.
Whether or not one agrees with how that situation was handled, it is undeniable that this was a decision which created winners and losers. And nearly all bargaining decisions involve trade-offs, meaning some union members will benefit and others will pay a cost. The pending Friedrichs case questions whether it is proper to force all teachers, regardless of whether they agree with these union decisions, to financially support the union.
About the Author: Jarrett Skorup is the editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential (CapCon), the news source for Michigan residents who want an alternative to “bigger government” remedies in policy debates. CapCon reports on the public officials who seek to limit government, those who do not, and those whose votes are at odds with what they say. This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of CapCon, and appears here with permission.
SCOTUS appears to be ready to dump mandatory public employee union dues payments.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association lawsuit. The case centers around whether or not teachers and other public employees should be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment in states that don’t have right-to-work (RTW) laws. Reviewing the comments and questions from the Justices, a favorable outcome is looking very good for the plaintiffs.
The lawyers and court-watchers have been anticipating a 5-4 decision, with Antonin Scalia being the swing vote. The typically conservative justice had in the past come down on the side of forced agency fees or “fair share,” which is a full dues payment minus the money the union spends on politics should a teacher object. The unions claim they are compelled to represent every teacher, and thus, every teacher should have to pay something for their services. That set up has been law since SCOTUS enshrined it in the Abood decision in 1977 in an attempt to ensure “labor peace.”
But Scalia seems to have had a change of heart. Noting the differences between private and public unions, he said, “But the problem is that it is not the same as a private employer, that what is bargained for is, in all cases, a matter of public interest. And that changes…the situation in a way that that may require a change of the rule. It’s one thing to provide it for private employers. It’s another thing to provide it for the government, where every matter bargained for is a matter of public interest.” (P. 76)
Even more damning, Scalia ended up essentially agreeing with the main point of the plaintiffs’ argument. “The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of all of those questions are necessarily political questions.” (P.45)
Anthony Kennedy, traditionally the Court’s swing voter, showed little sympathy for the union position. He dismissed the classic union rallying point that refers to those RTW state employees who “benefit” from union activities but don’t pay money to them as “free riders.” Kennedy rejected that argument, referring to them instead as “compelled riders.”
And you the term is free rider. The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.
Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it — correct me if I’m wrong — agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points. (P.43)
Kennedy also brought up the frequently fuzzy line between political spending and so called chargeable (non-political) fees, asking the lawyer for the state of California. “Do union — do unions have public relations programs of or newspaper articles, media programs to talk about things like merit pay, protecting underperforming teachers and so forth? Do the unions actually make those arguments, and aren’t those chargeable expenses? (P.44)
The union lawyers kept stressing that forced dues were essential to their survival, but Scalia disagreed, pointing out, “Why do you think that the union would not survive without these – these – fees charged to nonmembers of the union? Federal employee unions do – do not charge agency fees to nonmembers and they seem to survive; indeed they prosper….” (P.50)
The union lawyers and four Justices sympathetic to their cause didn’t have much of a defense. They kept making the same tired old points and added the stare decisis argument, the doctrine of precedent, which came up several times. Lawyers cite it when an issue has been previously brought to the court and a ruling already made. Generally, courts will adhere to the previous judgment, though this is not always the case.
There have been several landmark cases where prior rulings have been completely disregarded, most notably in Plessy v Ferguson (1896). The Court ruled the “constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’” But in 1954, stare decisis was set aside when the court overturned Plessy. In Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, the Court reversed itself, saying that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Referring to Friedrichs, George Leef writes in Forbes, “Where First Amendment rights are at issue…stare decisis and the convenience of teachers’ unions seem very small considerations.”
The media weigh in
Reading countless reports and articles on the trial, I could not find one that thought it went the union’s way. Typical is a piece from Politico titled. “SCOTUS support for anti-union plaintiffs,” which begins, “The Supreme Court appeared ready Monday to bar public-sector unions from collecting ‘fair-share’ fees from non-members, a move that could deal a political blow to Democrats by reducing union membership drastically and draining union coffers.”
The only glimmer of hope came from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who wrote, “As I listened (and admittedly, I’m not impartial!), I felt they failed to present a compelling argument for why the court should overturn 40 years of precedent — precedent that has led to labor peace in the public sector, better services for communities, easier administration for state and local governments, and, of course, fair pay and benefits for working families.”
But as she said, she is not impartial. In fact, anything but.
The usual pro-union suspects weighed in and essentially agreed that the plaintiffs would probably emerge victorious, but their reporting was leaden with a heavy dose of anger and angst. Perhaps the most hysterical was an article on Huffington Post titled, “This is Bad! Attack on Teacher Unions is an Assault on Students, Workers and Democracy.” His slant was obvious; in a brief article, he used the word “rightwing” seven times and just to change things up, he threw in “right-wing” a couple of times.
What happens next?
The justices may very well have already voted or will do so very soon, but it’ll likely be June before their decision is announced. Between now and then a lot can happen. The Justices’ minds can be changed by other justices and can be affected by public opinion and (indirect) union pressure. Hence the PR war will go on.
If the unions lose, how bad will it be for them?
Probably not nearly as bad as they are making it out to be. First, they can get rid of the free rider problem by becoming a members-only organization. (Some state laws may have to be tweaked, but that shouldn’t be an onerous task.) Then, if a teacher likes their union they can pay for services rendered. If they want no part of the union, they won’t join. There are other organizations like the Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International that provide many of the benefits and protections offered by the union.
Also, by becoming a members-only entity, the unions will enlist only true believers. But they will, however, have to be more responsive to the needs and wishes of their members since teachers as well as other public employees will no longer be forced to pay them.
Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, writes that children could be winners should the plaintiffs prevail, “…teachers may gain greater leverage in determining the policies that union leaders pursue. If that leads to policies that reward great teaching and put more of the best teachers in the classrooms that need them most, students will win.”
And there are union stalwarts who aren’t crying in their beer. Trade union activist Shamus Cooke asserts that unions need to step up their organizing game if they are to remain powerful. Samantha Winslow makes pretty much the same point in “Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs.”
If Friedrichs is successful, who will be the big loser?
Democrats and the left.
There is no doubt that union warchests will take a hit if all teachers aren’t forced to fill them. While no one knows how many teachers will refuse membership, I think a conservative guess would be that one-third will choose to avoid ties to the union. If so, the California Teachers Association’s $180 million a year gravy train would be sliced down to $120 million. As you can see here (H/T Colin Sharkey), CTA gives 96.7 percent of that gravy to Democrats. And what doesn’t go specifically to Democrats goes to leftist causes. On a national level, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers’ spending just about all goes in a leftward direction.
The Abood decision, which claimed it would ensure “labor peace,” did so at the cost of freedom of association for millions of teachers across America over a 39-year period. “Labor peace” has also come at great expense to parents, children and taxpayers who have suffered as the unions coffers were used in part to kill education reform, keep kids in failing schools and raise taxes. Hopefully, the judges will soon rid our lives of Abood and if they do, trading bad policy for “labor peace” will become a sad relic of another time.
New documents show, yet again, teachers unions’ disdain for American workers.
If you Google NEA + middle class + Friedrichs, you will be barraged with a load of demagogic union bromides about how the Friedrichs case – which opposes mandatory dues payments to public employee unions (PEUs) as a condition of employment – will, if successful, destroy the middle class. “Friedrichs Is Missing Its Warning Label” and “American Dream a casualty of Friedrichs lawsuit” are typical pro-union manifestos sounding alarm bells about the purported horrors that would befall workers should Friedrichs pass muster in the U.S. Supreme Court next year.
But in reality it’s the unions themselves that are destroying the middle class. Here in California, due to exorbitant pensions and Cadillac healthcare perks to PEU members, San Bernardino, Vallejo and Stockton have already gone bankrupt. Very possibly your city could be next. And at the same time that municipalities are going under, “Taxifornia” is among the highest in the nation in state income tax, sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax and property tax. And for those among us who demand that we “soak the rich,” it will only speed up the California-to-Texas migration already in progress. At this point, the rich – defined as the top 1 percent of taxpayers – earn approximately 22 percent of the nation’s income, yet pay 38 percent of all federal income taxes. What about the top 25 percent of taxpayers? They earn almost 69 percent of the nation’s income, but pay 86 percent of all federal income taxes. In California, the wealthiest one percent paid over 50 percent of the state income tax in 2012. Virtually every other tax dollar is forked over by the middle class.
Now comes a report that Teachers Unions Spent Millions on Luxury Hotels, Overseas Travel, Car Services. Investigators from The 74, a news site headed by former newswoman-turned-education reformer Campbell Brown, dug up financial documents filed with the U.S. Labor Department by the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) which reveal that the union elite “show a penchant for five-star business expenses that are far removed from the $56,000-a-year average teacher’s salary in the U.S.” Between 2011 and 2014, the country’s largest teachers unions “spent more than $5.7 million booking rooms at the world’s poshest hotels and resorts, scoring flights to exotic overseas destinations and traveling back and forth in limos….” These luxuries are paid for by dues that teachers have forcibly removed from their paychecks in California and throughout much of the country. And as the wealthy flee to more tax-friendly states, it is predominantly the middle class – via taxes – that foots the bills for teachers’ salaries and, of course, their union dues.
Limos, cruises, exotic overseas destinations, car services, luxury hotels – all above the pay grade of the average teacher and average American worker – are de rigeur for the union elite. One union leader, blind to the bombastic hypocrisy, has no qualms about the extravagance. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said “We’re proud of every nickel we spend on our members and retirees.”
The teacher union elite clearly have a “Let them eat cake” attitude toward its rank-and-file, not to mention the rest of us. We can only hope that the Friedrichs case will be successful. If it is, the unions will have to become accountable to its members, many of whom do not appreciate the union elite’s profligate spending on their pampered selves. And, of course, the beleaguered taxpayers will get some relief also. Now that’s an “American Dream” worthy of us all.
In California, the citizenry pays for the collection of dues for public employee unions.
As just about every teacher in California will tell you, union dues are deducted by the local school district from their monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions. In fact, payroll deduction is de rigeur for all public employee unions. But not all states suck up to organized labor like California.
Other states like North Carolina and Alabama have already passed legislation prohibiting paycheck deductions. Most notably, new right-to-work states Wisconsin and Michigan have followed suit. Most recently, Oklahoma just passed a law that makes the unions responsible for collecting their own dues. HB 1749 stipulates that it “shall be unlawful for any state agency to make payroll deductions on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that on or after November 1, 2015, collectively bargains on behalf of its membership pursuant to any provision of federal law.”
Last week, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a partial measure. This bill, should it become law, would prohibit public sector unions from using employee paycheck deductions to fund certain political activities. In fact, a similar tack has been tried several times in California. In 2005, Prop 75 would have allowed automatic deductions for the political portion of public employees’ union dues only if the worker gave their permission to do so. And in 2012 Prop 32, among other things, would have banned “automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics.” Both measures failed.
While union bosses love the taxpayer-as-bagman set-up (why wouldn’t they!), not all workers do. Years ago when I was teaching, I asked then UTLA president A.J. Duffy at a union meeting why teachers weren’t responsible for paying their own dues. He responded, “They might forget.” I didn’t respond, but knew that some of my colleagues were thinking what I was thinking. Forget? No. Not choose to pay? Yes. A 2014 poll in Pennsylvania also showed that the rank-and-file and the bosses are not of the same mind. The survey of union households across the state found that “80 percent of union households said taxpayer resources should not be used to collect campaign contributions.” Union leaders, as usual, refuse to deal directly with the issue, but instead set up straw men to attack: “It’s really about keeping control in the hands of corporations,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation with about 900,000 members. Huh? He then went on to explain, “[Legislators] only want to hear from the corporations and billionaires.”
Let’s look at this another way. Say you buy a gun. After the purchase, the government starts deducting money from your paycheck whether you want it to or not and turning the cash over to the National Rifle Association. The NRA claims it is justified in doing so because it says it will advocate for you and provide legal assistance should you need it. The NRA doesn’t pay for the service, and moreover, doesn’t pay a penny in income tax. Reasonable? Hardly.
One glimmer of hope for the Golden State is the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. It’s possible that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, one of the by-products could be a legislature more responsive to its constituents instead of CTA, which is by far the most powerful special interest in the state.
But by whatever means, we need to release the taxpayers from their forced bagman status. To paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, it’s time for the unions to collect their own damn dues.
If CA becomes a right-to-work state, a seismic political shift may ensue.
Last week Mike Antonucci reported that the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the National Education Association’s Badger State affiliate, is down to fewer than 50,000 members (40,000 currently employed) from a high of over 100,000 in 2009. This precipitous loss is a result of Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 which became law in 2011. The law limits collective bargaining for teachers (and other public employees), requires annual votes for union certification and prohibits employers (taxpayer-funded school districts) from collecting union dues. Wisconsin, having become a right-to-work state in March, is sure to see those numbers fall even more in the years to come.
As Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute points out, it isn’t just individual members who are leaving their unions, “…an increasing number of teachers’ unions were being decertified by their members all together.” And over a 100 public school unions in Wisconsin have voted to do just that in the last two years. In addition to worker freedom, MacIver reports that Act 10 has saved taxpayers over $3 billion.
Needless to say, unionistas are furious with Walker, infusing their disdain with Marxist rhetoric and on any given day comparing him to Hitler. But is Walker really bad for workers? Hillary Clinton sure thinks so. Right after Walker announced that he was running for president, Clinton went off on him.
Republican governors like Scott Walker have made their names stomping on workers’ rights, and practically all the Republican candidates hope to do the same as president. I will fight back against these mean-spirited, misguided attacks. Evidence shows that the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men, so if we want to get serious about raising incomes, we have to get serious about supporting union workers.
But the statistics tell a very different story for workers. Deroy Murdock points out that since Walker has become governor, Wisconsin has outperformed the country as a whole using a variety of metrics including unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, inflation-adjusted, median household income, etc.
While California has no Act 10, it would become a right-to-work state if Friedrichs v California passes muster with the Supreme Court next year. And if teachers and others public employees are not forced into paying dues, what would the ramifications be for the Golden State? A political earthquake is imaginable.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission shows that by far the biggest political influence peddler in CA is the California Teachers Association, which spent over $211 million between 2000-2009 on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying. It’s no secret that CTA will fight any education reform measure that diminishes its influence; charter school proliferation, vouchers and reasonable teacher evaluation methods are but a few examples. But CTA also spends oodles on non-education issues, all of which swerve sharply to the left. As Troy Senik writes in City Journal,
Among these causes: implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, blocking photo-identification requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain. The CTA was the single biggest financial opponent of another Proposition 8, the controversial 2008 proposal to ban gay marriage, ponying up $1.3 million to fight an initiative that eventually won 52.2 percent of the vote. The union has also become the biggest donor to the California Democratic Party. From 2003 to 2012, the CTA spent nearly $102 million on political contributions; 0.08 percent of that money went to Republicans. (Emphasis added.)
The second highest spender was another public employee union, the California State Council of Service Employees, a branch of SEIU, which spent over $107 million on politics during the same time period. California Common Sense, an organization that is dedicated to opening government to the public, reports that CSCSE spent broadly across various state-level positions in 2013, “focusing on Governor’s ($4.9 million), State Senate ($1.4 million), and State Assembly races ($1.2 million). Like most unions, CSCSE opposed Republican candidates in almost every case.”
The results of union largess in the Golden State have been devastating for Republicans, who have been marginalized in Sacramento for years. After a few crucial GOP wins in 2014, the Los Angeles Times wrote,
California Republicans scored a rare victory in Tuesday’s election by denying Democrats a two-thirds legislative supermajority that would consign GOP lawmakers to virtual irrelevance in the state Capitol.
For a party sharply diminished by two decades of relentless setbacks in California, it passed as a major achievement for Republicans to capture more than a third of the seats in the state Senate and possibly the Assembly as well.
Clearly the unions don’t deserve all the “credit” for the pathetic GOP results, but to be sure, they have played a huge part. If California experiences a 50 percent Wisconsin-type drop in union members, however, the Democrat’s stranglehold in CA could be eased considerably. CTA’s position as “the co-equal fourth branch of government,” would be history. Not having an endless supply of cash, it would have to pick and choose its political recipients much more judiciously. Also if teachers and others aren’t forced to pay the union for the right to work, the unions would have to become more of a political big tent in order to entice workers to join. And Democrats, who regularly carp about “getting big money out of politics,” will – to some extent – finally get their wish.
Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, a failing school for at least the past decade, has become a battleground in the war against union power and its unconstrained efforts to retain absolute control over public education. At stake may be America’s future itself.
Palm Lane parents, disheartened by the school’s abysmal academic record  and the governing district’s resistance to change, sought relief by attempting to exercise the Parent Trigger Law, an option that enables them to petition the school district to transform the failing institution into a newly created public charter school.
Their efforts triggered a well-organized, bare-knuckles campaign by the unions and their representatives to undermine and defeat the mounting groundswell. The tactics included delays and obstructionism, intimidation and disinformation.
The parents organized and doubled down in their efforts. They issued a legal challenge to their powerful opponents in the form of a Writ of Mandate, asking the Orange County Superior Court to order the Anaheim City School District to grant their petition to become a public charter school.
The Parent Trigger Law, a bipartisan effort passed in 2010, allows failing public schools, hobbled by union rules that include controls over teacher performance, work schedule, curriculum, administrative duties and requirements, to be transformed into independent public charter schools.
Charter schools are exempt from the existing union stranglehold on public education. They are able to exercise independent control in the vital areas of hiring and firing of teachers, tenure, administrative duties and curriculum content. Most importantly, charter schools are exempt from the mandate requiring union membership for all California teachers.
SB 54 represents an existential nuclear threat to the union hegemon. The ability to end union control in even one public school is the ability to end union control over public education itself. The reality is apparent in the sometimes questionably legal tactics, outright thuggery and other desperate measures the unions have taken since the parents became activists.
The ability of unions to exercise their power and influence explains why Adelanto is the only public school to have successfully invoked the Parent Trigger Law. Palm Lane hopes to be the second and to inspire other parents to follow their lead.
No system is perfect. Inherent in the democratic process are structural flaws that weaken it. These are the endless legal challenges that drain time, energy and funds. The mechanics enable Might to triumph over Right. That is the union’s goal at Palm Lane.
The Palm Lane parents and their supporters, allies and advocates held a public press conference April 24th in an effort to address these issues, counteract the disinformation campaign and highlight the critical importance of their efforts for all of California’s public school students. The ramifications of the Court’s ruling on the Writ cannot be overstated.
Unions currently function like a politburo. They represent a clear and present danger to the values and traditions that have led to American exceptionalism, the education of the country’s future citizens. They must be defeated.
Palm Lane, Vegara and Friedrichs represent efforts to reassert the legal right of citizens guaranteed by the United States Constitution to determine their own destiny. This quality has defined the American character since our founding and stands in direct opposition to union goals. The Palm Lane parents deserve our admiration and support.
Union Watch will monitor the proceedings closely. We hope Right triumphs over Might.
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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.
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(1) Palm Lane currently has 38% proficiency in English, 53% proficiency in math. This represents four-fold and two-fold improvements in the respective subjects since 2002. Current rankings are unavailable because the state elected not to test students for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The school provides a totally stripped- down curriculum that offers no courses in US or world history, science, geography, social studies, music, art, foreign language or of the traditional liberal arts subjects that are standard fare in private, parochial and first-tier public schools in most middle-class and affluent neighborhoods.
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