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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.

How to Opt Out of Public Sector Unions

This week is National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide effort of 81 groups in 45 states to raise awareness among public union employees that they can opt out of membership in their unions. Groups also provide members with the necessary help and resources to do so.

Victor Joecks, executive vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute and an organizer of NEFW, told me why this week should be celebrated:

In almost every area of life, Americans understand that they have the right to join and leave associations. Every day some Americans go to a new church, switch political parties, or cancel magazine subscriptions without even considering the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to leave an organization they were unhappy with. We understand these rights in almost every area of life except for one—union membership.

The issue at stake is not that employees cannot leave a public sector union—it is that they cannot choose to stop funding the union. In forced unionization states, employees have the option to become agency fee payers, exempting them from paying for union activities that are directly political. By doing so, they lose many benefits of union representation, such as liability insurance. However, they are still forced to pay most of the dues.

Many people who support forced-unionization bring up the “free rider” problem. They say that people who leave the union will still receive benefits, such as bargaining for increased pay, fewer hours worked, and more generous retirement benefits, that they do not pay for. While this is a valid concern, the desire to opt out of public sector unions is not a case of a free rider problem. No sane person would force someone to get on a bus, then complain that they are “gaming the system” by resisting paying the fare. If union membership were voluntary the free rider problem may apply, but it is not.

Many union members see how collective bargaining is bankrupting state and local governments and harming educational achievement. They understand that by burdening their neighbors, children, and grandchildren with high levels of debt, collective bargaining works against their interests. States are $5.1 trillion in debt, of which $4.4 trillion is due to unfunded pension funds. To cover the total unfunded liabilities of state governments, each person in the United States would have to pay over $14,000.

Unions also oppose common-sense educational reforms such as charter schools and voucher programs. Implementing programs that inject choice into education is necessary right now. The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests show no change in high school students’ reading or math skill levels from four years before. Stagnation is not acceptable when less than 40 percent of students are proficient in reading and only 26 percent are proficient in math.

With unions supporting so many harmful policies, is it any wonder that over 4 million Americans would leave public sector unions if they could?

While leaving a union is possible, it is not easy. Unions have a strong interest in keeping as many full-dues paying members as they can. Personal testimonies at this week’s Heritage Foundation event, Free at Last: How and Why Union Members Leave Their Unions, confirm that unions work to frustrate those who want to leave at every turn.

Voluntary association should not be a partisan issue. The vast majority of Americans (over 80 percent) agree that union employees should be able to opt out of having their hard-earned dues used for political spending.

These issues all stem from the flawed 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In this case, collective bargaining was upheld, along with forced dues collection, even if members disagreed with the political ideology of the union leadership.

A group of California school teachers is seeking to have the Supreme Court reevaluate and overturn the Abood decision on First Amendment grounds. It is common knowledge that the First Amendment protects the rights of free speech and free association, yet forced unionization continues. Even worse, a substantial portion of the dues are used to promote political ends that many members disagree with on practical or moral grounds. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is working its way through the courts and offers hope that the injustice created by taking away choice is done away with for good.

Returning to Joecks’s example, imagine if magazine companies did what public sector unions do. They could force people to sign up for a subscription and refuse to allow them to stop paying for the magazine—even if they do not want it. Attorney General Eric Holder would be filing a lawsuit against them and the authorities would be involved.

Thankfully there are other solutions to public union representation. Private professional organizations, such as the Association for American Educators, offer perks such as $2 million in liability insurance and legal protection. These benefits are offered at a lower price than union protections, since AAE is focused on serving its members rather than protecting its special treatment in Washington, D.C. and state capitals.

Unions are supposed to provide a service. In any other part of the service industry, if customers began leaving, the company would need to rework its value proposition. Unions refuse to do so. Instead they do all they can to hold their “customers,” and American taxpayers, captive.

About the Author:  Jared Meyer is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. He is a graduate of St. John’s University where he received a B.S. in finance and a minor in the philosophy of law. Jared’s research interests include microeconomic theory and the motivations for, along with the economic effects of, governmental regulations. He was previously a research assistant for the political philosopher Douglas Rasmussen. Jared also publishes and presents on the need for a moral foundation of free markets. This article originally appeared in Public Sector Inc. and appears here with permission.

Checking Out of the Hotel California…Teachers Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

CTA Builds the Infrastructure

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

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

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

•Finding messages that resonate with this demographic, and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One-Way Political Spending of the Teacher Unions

Teacher union political gifting continues to be almost exclusively leftward bound, but teachers don’t have to finance it.

Courtesy of campaign-finance tracker Open Secrets, we have a reminder of how lopsided teacher union political spending is. Education Week’s Lauren Camera posted a report Friday which spells out some of the nasty details.

In House of Representative races during the 2014 election cycle, the American Federation of Teachers gave $1.4 million to Democrats, compared to just $5,000 to Republicans. The National Education Association donated $857,550 to Democrats and $59,500 to Republicans. In Senate races AFT gave $210,000 to Dems and GOPers got zero. NEA sent $168,750 to Senate Democrats, while Republicans scored a piddling $3,000. 

Sadly, these numbers are not outliers but typical of teacher union spending. From 1989-2014, NEA sent only 4 percent of its donations to Republicans, and rest assured that the few bucks they tossed at the right never wound up anywhere near any Tea Party types. Additionally, NEA has lavished gifts on such leftist stalwarts as MALDEF, People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Center for American Progress. 

Here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Dems and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. CTA also spends millions on controversial, non-education-related liberal causes such as establishing a single-payer health-care system, expanding the government’s power of eminent domain, instituting same-sex marriage and blocking photo ID requirements for voters. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 (more than double the amount of any other special interest) and just about every penny of it went in the usual leftist direction.

But this must be what teachers want, right? Aren’t the great majority of teachers liberal?

In a word, “No.”

In fact, according to Mike Antonucci, an internal NEA poll revealed, 

NEA members lean no further to the left than any other large group of Americans. The national union conducts periodic internal surveys to ascertain member attitudes on a host of issues. These surveys are never made public, and results are tightly controlled, even within the organization. The 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members ‘are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.’ (Emphasis added.) 

While teachers in 26 states have to pay the union in order to teach in a public school, many are unaware that every year they can withhold several hundred dollars in dues money that the union would spend on politics. Needless to say, the unions don’t advertise the fact that teachers do indeed have any choice. 

Next week is National Employee Freedom Week which is a nation-wide effort to inform unionized employees about their union membership options. If you are conservative, libertarian, centrist or apolitical and are tired of bankrolling your union’s pet political causes, maybe it’s time to just say no. For information on how to do that, please go to the California Teachers Empowerment Network website.

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.

Americans Should Know They Have Choices In The Workplace

In the summer of 2012, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Las Vegas, initiated a campaign to let local teachers know that they could opt out of their union, the 12,000 member Clark County Education Association, by submitting written notice between July 1 and July 15.

The reaction was dazzling. Hundreds of teachers had wanted to leave the union but didn’t know that it was possible. Armed with their new-found information, over 400 chose to leave their unions.

Building on that momentum, NPRI, in conjunction with the Association of American Educators, is promoting June 23-29 this year as National Employee Freedom Week — a week dedicated to educating employees about exactly what rights they have regarding union membership. The campaign has over 50 member organizations across the nation.

When it comes to employee freedom, every state’s experience is different. California, for instance, is different than Nevada because it’s not a right-to-work state, in which employees may leave their unions at any point. In California, however, union members must still pay the portion of union dues that goes toward collective bargaining and other non-political union-related activities.

Know The Options

But if they don’t like their union’s politics, they don’t have to help fund them. The dissenters who select this “agency fee” option typically do so because they don’t like that about one-third of their dues goes for political spending. Even though over 40% of union households voted Republican in 2012, over 90% of union largesse went to Democrats and liberal causes.

This is important for employees in every state, including California. The Golden State has many dominant unions — perhaps none more powerful than the mighty California Teachers Association with its 300,000 members and its more than $211 million in political spending between 2000 and 2009 alone, with additional millions since.

This past year, an agency fee payer in the CTA could expect to get a $224 rebate. (The complete rebate would actually be more because when a teacher joins a union in California, they are actually joining three — local, state and national — and would get rebates from each of them.)

It is important to note that different unions in different states have specific opt-out periods during which a worker can exercise their right to leave. In many states, like California, one not only has to resign, but also must ask for a rebate of the political portion of their dues every year within a specified, and frequently very narrow, window of time.

To be clear, National Employee Freedom Week is not about denying anyone the right to belong to a union, but rather about letting employees know their options and providing them with the facts they need to make an informed decision that’s right for them.

Time For A Discussion

Unions are threatened when workers opt out, and typically accuse dissidents of being “free riders” or freeloaders. But if workers don’t want the services that the union has to offer, they have no choice; they have to accept them because the union demands exclusivity.

So instead of “free rider,” a better term would be “forced rider.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains, “The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves.”

In other words, opting out of a union isn’t threatening to the union at all; employees still pay for the union’s collective bargaining activity, allowing unions to continue pursuing their central tasks, while simultaneously giving employees additional freedom with their paychecks and time.

It’s an appealing option for many union members: National Employee Freedom Week conducted scientific surveys of union households across the nation, and a full 33% of national respondents indicated they would opt out of union membership if given the chance.

Regardless of which path employees take, this will start a larger discussion about what employees need most to be effective in their jobs, whether they work in a classroom or a factory. Perhaps National Employee Freedom Week would be a good time for everyone — from California to Connecticut — to have that discussion.

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

Workers of the World, Your Rights!

A week in June is being promoted to advise workers of their right to opt out of union membership.

Unknown to many employees throughout the country – especially in non-right-to-work states – they have a right to not belong to a union. This year, June 23rd – 29th is being dedicated to informing America’s wage earners of their union membership options. This project, National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), is spearheaded by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) and the Association of American Educators (AAE).

The idea for this undertaking came about in the summer of 2012 when NPRI, a non-partisan think tank based in Las Vegas, launched a small-scale campaign to let local teachers know that they could opt out of their union, the Clark County Education Association, by submitting written notice from July 1st to July 15th.

The reaction was stunning. Teachers thanked NPRI for sharing that information. Hundreds of teachers wanted to leave CCEA, each for their own unique reasons, but didn’t know it was possible or forgot because of the narrow and inconvenient drop window. Empowered by the information NPRI shared, over 400 teachers opted out by submitting written notice and over 400 more left CCEA and weren’t replaced by a union member.

The U.S. is comprised of 24 “right-to-work” states which grant workers a choice whether or not to belong to a union. In the other 26 and Washington, D.C., they don’t have to belong but must still pay the portion of union dues that goes toward collective bargaining and other non-political union-related activities. The dissenters who select this “agency fee” option typically do so because they don’t like that about one-third of their dues goes for political spending. Even though over 40 percent of union households vote Republican, over 90 percent of union largess goes to Democrats and liberal causes. (There is an exemption for religious objectors; if an employee is successful in attaining that status, they don’t have to pay any money to the union, but must donate a full dues share to an approved charity.)

As president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, I am well aware of teachers’ frustrations. We have been providing information to educators about their rights since 2006, and thousands have exercised their right to resign from their teachers union in the Golden State. It is important to note that different unions in different states have specific opt-out periods during which a worker can exercise their right to leave. In many states, one not only has to resign, but also must ask for a rebate of the political portion of their dues every year during a specified – and frequently very narrow – window of time.

To be clear, NEFW is not about denying anyone the right to belong to a union, but rather about letting employees know their options and providing them with facts that they can use to make an informed decision. Unions are threatened when workers choose to opt out, and typically accuse dissidents of being “free riders” or freeloaders. But, if employees don’t want the services that the union has to offer, they have no choice but to accept them because the union demands exclusivity. As I wrote recently, quoting Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk,

Unions object that right-to-work is actually “right-to-freeload.” The AFL-CIO argues “unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those who don’t contribute financially toward the expenses incurred by providing those protections.” They contend they should not have to represent workers who do not pay their “fair share.”

It is a compelling argument, but untrue. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate unions exclusively represent all employees, but permits them to electively do so. (Emphasis added.) Under the Act, unions can also negotiate “members-only” contracts that only cover dues-paying members. They do not have to represent other employees.

The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on this point. As Justice William Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, the Act’s coverage “is not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees … ‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.”

As Sherk says, while unions don’t have to represent all employees, they do so voluntarily to eliminate any competition. So instead of “free rider,” a better term would be “forced rider.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

One final thought: If unions are so beneficial for workers – as they keep telling us – why must they force people to pay for their service?

I never have received a response to that question. Maybe because there is no good answer. Something for all of us to ponder during National Employee Freedom Week.

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