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‘Bargaining for the common good’ could come back to haunt the unions in Janus v. AFSCME

“Bargaining for the common good,” which greatly expanded the parameters of collective bargaining, was cooked up in 2014 by leaders from public sector unions and community organizations at a national conference held at Georgetown University. The meeting’s priorities included using “the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; working with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognizing militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.”

By 2016, the movement had picked up momentum. At that time, Rachel Cohen wrote a piece for The American Prospect called “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good.’” Prominently featured throughout the article are the United Teachers of Los Angeles and its president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, who claims that collective bargaining is “an important tool available to fight for equity and justice” and should go beyond issues like salaries and work rules. He envisions UTLA as a vehicle to push for collaborative policy alongside community organizations in bargaining for “the common good.”

In a 2017 interview with a radical education group at UCLA, Caputo-Pearl said, “In bargaining for the common good, we see great possibilities for a style of campaign that puts forward a vision for the city as well as for the schools.” He explained that his union is proposing the school district expand green space at schools, press the city for free bus passes for all students and provide a million dollar legal defense fund for students and family members who are facing deportation. Other public sector unions are involving themselves in community issues like affordable housing and improved city services.

Which brings us to the Friedrichs et al v CTA case. In 2016, that lawsuit ended in a 4-4 stalemate in the U.S. Supreme Court due to the death of Antonin Scalia. Had the case been successful, no public employee in the country would have to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued, “… bargaining with local governments is inherently political. Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.” As such, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overturned and teachers should not be forced to pay any money to a union at all. (The 1977 Abood decision, which the unions applauded, stipulated that the fair share system is a workable compromise — workers should have to pony up for collective bargaining but not union political spending.)

But with “bargaining for the common good,” Caputo-Pearl and many other public sector union leaders across the country are insisting that collective bargaining should incorporate blatantly political issues. This could very well doom the union’s case in Janus v AFSCME, the follow-up to Friedrichs.

In Janus, the unions are likely to argue that workplace “coherence” makes it necessary for all employees to subsidize the union. The American Federation of Teachers amicus brief argues that it’s not enough for unions to just “try harder” to recruit dues-paying members. It claims that the presence of members and non-members in a school “sows discord and interferes with the close working relationships necessary to provide high-quality education.”

As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci points out, the unions will claim that fee-payers (those who opt out of paying the political portion of their union dues) “are not supporting unions’ political speech in any meaningful way.”

But out of the other side of the union mouth emerges a very different tale. In October Rob Weil, American Federation of Teachers director of field programs for educational issues, spoke to the Baltimore Teachers Union about the Janus case. Part of his talk dealt with the case’s potential impact on unions. While he didn’t use the phrase “bargaining for the common good,” he may well have:

• Unions will be forced to spend larger amounts of time and money on membership maintenance instead of other more progressive union activities.

• The progressive [movement] as a whole, and many specific groups, will lose resources (both $$ and people) which will lessen their impact. Some social partners may, unfortunately, no longer exist.

• The progressive agenda may have to be reduced in reaction to the new rules regarding dues collection.

The Janus oral arguments will take place on Fe. 26. Will “bargaining for the common good” and Weil’s comments doom the unions’ forced dues regime?

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

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What Janus v. AFSCME could mean for California

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court will hear the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. For California taxpayers, the potential impact is huge.

The issue is straightforward: Does public-sector unionism violate the First Amendment rights of workers who do not want to join a union?

The lawsuit was brought by Mark Janus, a resident of Illinois and an employee of the state as a child-support specialist. Because Illinois is not a right-to-work state, he was required to pay agency fees to the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. In short, he was forced to associate with an organization with which he disagreed. A fundamental part of the First Amendment’s right of association is the right not to associate. As Thomas Jefferson noted, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

No one will be watching the case more closely than Rebecca Friedrichs, the California teacher who brought a similar right-to-work challenge here in California. Her case also went the United States Supreme Court where it was widely believed she would prevail. Regrettably, the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the high court deadlocked in a 4-4 tie. With the arrival of Scalia’s replacement, constitutionalist Justice Neil Gorsuch, the days of forced unionism for public employees may be numbered.

The Janus case presents the identical issue as the Friedrichs case and, even though it involves a public employee from Illinois, there is no dispute that a ruling in Mark Janus’s favor would have the same binding effect in California as if Rebecca Friedrichs had prevailed in her action against the California Teachers Association.

If the court rules for the plaintiffs in Janus, state and local government employees in the 22 states that are not right-to-work jurisdictions will no longer be forced to subsidize unions as a condition of their employment. Rather, they will be free to join the organizations of their choice or not to join at all. The same applies to their contributions of money. In short, Janus may very well resurrect employees’ rights to free speech and association, as well as restore political balance by preventing public-employee unions from spending money collected from workers who may be opposed to the union’s political agenda.

And that latter point is key.

In California, public sector unions are without question the dominant political force. With their ability to extract hundreds of millions of dollars annually from their members, they are able to set the political agenda (which usually includes big employee compensation packages) and are able to defeat even modest reforms in education, welfare and criminal justice. Moreover, their prodigious campaign spending allows them to rent politicians who will make sure that the collective bargaining agreements that are executed with the unions favor the unions to the detriment of taxpayers who must pay for all this largess. The business community and taxpayer interests in California enter every political battle at a disadvantage from the start.

It doesn’t take a seer to predict what will happen in California if the plaintiffs in Janus prevail. The experience in other states which have opted for right-to-work status has been dramatic. When union membership is optional, union membership — and forced union dues — decrease. It is very likely that the political strength of California’s public sector unions will diminish if public employees no longer have to pay dues. At that point, interests that favor lower taxation and a positive business climate might finally be able to have their voices heard.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

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After Janus, Will Union Grassroots Members Assert their Political Voice?

The looming Janus vs. AFSCME decision, expected by Spring 2018, is probably going to validate the contention that ALL public sector union activity is inherently political. Once this landmark case is decided, members will not only have the right, already existing, to opt-out of paying political dues. After Janus, they may also have the right to opt-out of paying ALL dues, including “agency fees.”

The scope of this ruling is uncertain, but it’s reasonable to assume that public sector unions are going to become more accountable to their membership than ever before. How will members respond? Will they put California first, or continue to condone the destructive policies their unions promote as long as they benefit?

There are already resources available for unionized government workers and contractors who want to opt-out of paying dues that are used for politics, even though they still have to pay “agency fees.” Resources for most of California’s public employees, including teachers, can be found here. Resources for home health care workers can be found here. After the Janus ruling, those resources will be strengthened and expanded in scope.

But what sort of platforms will emerge for government workers who wish to remain union members, but want to challenge the political agenda of their unions? Will these dissidents, who often constitute a majority of the membership, have a way to influence the political agenda of their biased leadership? In the wake of Janus, innovative ways to facilitate this internal revolution within government unions should be a priority for anyone trying to bring real reform to California politics.

For decades, public sector unions have been the quiet, gargantuan impetus behind the growth of government at all levels, especially at the state and local level where 60% of all taxes are collected and spent. There are obvious consequences of a political agenda that wants to expand government without any regard to the cost or benefits, such as relentlessly increasing taxes at the same time as services are diminished. But there are two even more profound consequences that elude casual scrutiny. Both are extremely expensive for ordinary Californians.

The first is California’s status as a magnet state for welfare recipients and destitute, unskilled immigrants. Many of these immigrants come from cultures that devalue education, accept corruption as normal, and are hostile to American values and traditions. Apart from the staggering cost to taxpayers to provide these newcomers direct benefits, this policy necessarily requires more police, more prisons, more translators, more multi-lingual educators, more public housing and subsidized housing, more subsidized health care, more welfare and government aid of all types. Other indirect costs must include more public university majors in identity politics so less qualified students can get a “degree,” more quotas in hiring and college admissions so less qualified applicants can avoid being victims of “discrimination,” and more bureaucrats, social workers and college “administrators.” A gold mine for government unions.

The second is California’s embrace of an extreme environmentalist agenda. These policies create artificial scarcity not only for public services, but more significantly, for housing, water and energy. While ordinary private citizens suffer, and unionized public employees get cost-of-living recompense, demand driven asset bubbles inflate investment portfolios, most particularly the $1.0+ trillion in California’s state and local public employee pension fund assets. Artificial scarcity also requires expensive, expanded enforcement apparatus – more code inspectors, mass transit workers, higher fees for any sort of construction. And of course, artificial scarcity creates a housing price bubble that translates directly into massive increases in property tax revenue. Again, for government unions, extreme environmentalism is the gift that keeps on giving.

California’s government unions control the state legislature and nearly every city and county. Their policy is to invite in millions of dependent people, costing taxpayers hundreds of billions, while at the same time making it unaffordable for middle class taxpayers to live here through policy-driven artificial scarcity. This is more than just self-serving madness, it is oppression.

Public servants have hard choices to make. They may consider the following:

(1) As public servants your loyalty is to California’s citizens first.

(2) If you are public safety employees, your sworn duty is to keep California’s citizens safe.

(3) As union members, your priority should be the welfare of all of California’s workers, not just government workers.

What should public servants do? When the Janus ruling forces government unions to be more accountable, how will their members raise their collective voice? Will they understand that their unions should be fighting for policies that (1) welcome skilled workers who are encouraged to assimilate, and (2) support enactment of sensible environmentalist laws?

The hard fact is this: The more cultural upheaval there is, and the higher the cost-of-living gets, the more government expands and the more government unions benefit. And the more government expands to address these self-inflicted problems, the less government resources are left to complete infrastructure projects and provide other basic services to taxpayers. This is why there is an inherent conflict between the interests of public sector unions and the public interest. This is why public sector unions should be outlawed.

But so long as public sector unions exist, to condone their destructive political agenda in exchange for personal gain, even via sins of omission, is unforgivable.

How Can Local Officials Prepare for the Upcoming Janus vs AFSCME Ruling?

“A public employer shall provide all public employees an orientation and shall permit the exclusive representative, if applicable, to participate.”
– Excerpt from California State Assembly Bill AB 52, December 2016

In plain English, AB 52 requires every local government agency in California to bring union representatives into contact with every new hire, to “allow workers the opportunity to hear from their union about their contractual rights and benefits.” What’s this all about?

As explained by Adam Ashton, writing for the Sacramento Bee, “New California government workers will hear from union representatives almost as soon as they start their jobs under a state budget provision bolstering labor groups as they prepare for court decisions that may cut into their membership and revenue.”

Ashton is referring to the case set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court early next year, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. A ruling is expected by mid-year. It is possible, if not likely, that the ruling will change the rules governing public sector union membership. In pro-union states like California, public sector workers are required to pay “agency fees,” which constitute the vast majority of union revenue, even if they laboriously opt-out of paying that portion of union dues that are used explicitly for political campaigning and lobbying.

Needless to say, this law is designed to allow union representatives to get to newly hired public employees as soon as they walk in the door, in order to convince them to join the union and pay those dues. But can anyone argue against union membership?

The short answer is no. To deter such shenanigans, SB 285, thoughtfully introduced by Senator Atkins (D-San Diego), adds the following section to the Government Code: “A public employer shall not deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” Governor Brown signed this legislation on October 9th. So much for equal time.

So what can local elected officials do, those among them who actually want to do their part to attenuate the torrent of taxpayer funded dues pouring into the coffers of public employee unions in California? Can they provide the contact information for public employees to outside groups who may be able to provide equal time?

Once again, the answer is no. To deter access even to the agency emails of public employees, a new law bans public agencies from releasing the personal email addresses of government workers, creating a new exemption in the California Public Records Act. Those email addresses could be used by union reformers to provide the facts to public employees. How this all became law provides another example of just how powerful public sector unions are in Sacramento.

In order to quickly get the primary provision of AB 52 enacted, which allows union representatives into new public employee orientations, along with a provision to deny public access to public employee emails, both were added at the last minute to the California Legislature’s 2017-2018 budget trailer bill, AB 119. The union access to new employee orientations is Article 1. The denial of email access is Article 2.

So how are the unions preparing for the Janus ruling? By (1) making sure the union operatives get to new employees as soon as they begin working, (2) by preventing agency employers from saying anything to deter new employees from joining the unions, and (3) by preventing anyone else from getting the official agency emails for new employees in order to inform them of their rights to not join a union. That’s a lot.

So what can you do, if union reformers control a majority on your agency board or city council, and you in a position to try to oppose these unions?

First, examine the legal opinions surrounding the wording of SB 285, “A public employer shall not deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” The words “deter” and “discourage” do not in any way preclude providing facts. Consider this preliminary opinion posted on the website of the union-controlled Public Employee Relations Board:

“One major concern I have is that the terms “deter” and “discourage” are not defined. What if an employee comes to an employer with questions about what it means to be a member of the union, and the employer provides truthful responses. For example, assume that the employer confirms that being a member will mean paying dues. What if that has the effect of deterring or discouraging the employee from joining the union?”

It is possible for employers to present facts regarding union membership without violating the new law. Find out what disclosures remain permissible, and make sure new employees get the information.

Another step that can be taken, although probably not by local elected officials, is to challenge the new law that exempts public agency emails from public information act requests. And apart from accessing their work emails, there are other ways that outside groups can communicate with public employees to make sure they are aware of their rights.

California’s public employee unions collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. If the Janus vs AFSCME ruling takes away the ability of government unions to compel payment of agency fees, and imposes annual opt-in requirements for both agency fees and political dues, these unions will collect less money. How much less will depend on courage and innovative thinking on the part of reformers who want to rescue California from unionized government.

REFERENCES

Get a state job and meet your labor rep: How state budget protects California unions, Sacramento Bee, June 21, 2017
http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article156146364.html

AB 52, Public employees: orientation and informational programs: exclusive representatives, California Legislature
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB52

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Supreme Court of the United States Blog
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/janus-v-american-federation-state-county-municipal-employees-council-31/

SB 285, Atkins. Public employers: union organizing, California Legislature
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB285

2017-2018 budget trailer bill, AB 119, California Legislature
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB119

California Public Records Act, Office of the Attorney General
http://ag.ca.gov/publications/summary_public_records_act.pdf

Fact Sheet – AB 52 (Cooper) & SB 285 (Atkins), California Labor Federation
http://calaborfed.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/2-AB-52-Cooper-and-SB-285-Atkinsweb.pdf

Legislative Bulletin – California School Employees Association
http://www.csea.com/web/portals/0/csea_pdf/leg_rpt.pdf

SB 285: Public Employers Cannot Discourage Union Membership, Public Employee Relations Board
http://www.caperb.com/2017/04/04/sb-285-public-employers-cannot-discourage-union-membership/

Public employee unions wield hefty Atkins stick [SB 285], San Diego Reader
https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/aug/28/ticker-public-employee-unions-wield-atkins-stick/#