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The Taxpayer as Bagman

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.

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.

Planned Persecution

NEA claims to be for religious freedom, but Catholics and other right-to-lifers need not apply.

“The National Education Association believes that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. The Association also believes that choice of religion is an intensely personal decision.” These high-minded words are from NEA Resolution I-33, which was passed at its recent convention. Nothing really new here; the NEA passed other similar resolutions this year, and in fact it does so every year. There is also nothing new about the union’s raving hypocrisy on the issue.

As we learned recently via several secretly recorded videos, Planned Parenthood (PP) not only performs an ungodly number of abortions every year, but is in the dead baby body parts sales biz too. One would think that the unions, which have donated millions to PP over the years, might have shown some reticence. But they have doubled down instead. Over at AFL-CIO, Boss Trumka asserted that calls to defund PP “based on doctored undercover recordings are politically motivated and wrong.” Actually, he’s wrong. The videos weren’t “doctored” at all; they were available in their entirety on the internet. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry stood her ground and affirmed in a tweet, “Extremists stoop to new low attacking women & access to preventive care.” (Henry has a familial stake in this in that SEIU VP Kirk Adams is married to PP president Cecile Richards.)

In another case of defending evil, spreading falsehoods and/or selling ignorance, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten tweeted “More than 50% of Planned Parenthood patients are enrolled in Medicaid. Defunding @PPFA would take their coverage away. #StandWithPP” Wrong again. Defunding PP won’t take anyone’s Medicaid coverage away.

But for sheer misdirection nothing beats United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew who back in 2012 announced a $125,000 gift to PP. “As a union with a large female membership, we know the importance of the kind of health care that Planned Parenthood provides, including breast cancer screening.” Well, actually, despite what many think, PP does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so. Its clinics do provide referrals, but the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society readily provide them as well.

It’s important to note that UFT’s $125,000 gift (and all union largess) is comprised of dues money the union collects from its teachers regardless of their religious/moral convictions. So what can a pro-life teacher do knowing that part of his/her union dues is going to fund PP, one of whose raisons-d’être is killing (and now selling body parts of) the unborn? In non-right-to-work states, these teachers have two options. They can become agency fee payers in which case they must still pay for things like collective bargaining but don’t have to support the unions’ progressive political agenda. Or a teacher can become a religious objector and pay absolutely no money to the union, but instead pay a full dues share to a charity agreed on by the teachers union and the school district. This is a difficult status to achieve because the union just can’t bear to have what it considers a freeloader in its midst. As such, a dissenting teacher must usually seek out legal assistance and go to great lengths to prove their religiosity.

Enter Linda Misja, a high school language teacher in western Pennsylvania. Ms. Misja, a devout Roman Catholic, and her union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), just can’t seem to agree on a mutually acceptable charity. According to Watchdog.org’s Evan Grossman, Misja initially requested that her money to go to People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a pro-life group which is opposed to artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and birth control. The union, which either has a dark sense of humor or is seriously delusional, came back with an offer to send her dues money to an abortion clinic.

Misja countered with an alternative: a charity arm of the National Rifle Association which works with public schools to teach gun safety. But the union nixed this idea also on the grounds that it was “too political.” As Misja and the union duke it out, $2,000 she earned as a teacher is sitting in an escrow account.

What all this points to is that the teachers unions – PSEA is but one example – put their far left agenda above all else. The high-minded assertion about religious liberty in NEA Resolution I-33 is a canard. If the union really believed in religious freedom, it would direct PSEA, an NEA affiliate, to honor Misja’s request to have her money donated to an entity that supports her Catholic beliefs. And just as ridiculous is PSEA’s claim that donating to the NRA is “too political.” Since 1989, NEA has spent $92,972,656 on candidates, PACs, etc. while the American Federation of Teachers spent $69,757,113 during the same 26 year period. (In 2014 alone, PSEA spent $2,711,333 on politics) But Ms. Misja is laughably being denied the option to donate to the NRA because it’s “too political.”

Tolerance is a buzzword the teachers unions use with great abandon. But when it only goes one way, it becomes dictatorial, which is a perfect word to describe many teacher union policies.

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.