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The dust has cleared, so it’s time to analyze Janus based on reality rather than rhetoric

After Janus, California teachers unions teaching us a lesson in sleight-of-hand

Santa Ana Unified’s Monte Vista Elementary: Everybody graduates, only 15% read at grade level. (Source: California School Acountability Report Card)

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the 40-year practice of requiring public employees to join a union. But a day later, union leaders in California’s sixth-largest school district were hard at work – blocking the exits.

In a June 28 email, Santa Ana Educators Association president Barbara Pearson urged teachers to renew membership in her union. She helpfully provided a one-page application and simple instructions for returning it.

Her email and the language of the new member agreement reveal how desperate the union has become. While you can join the union easily (“Feel free to fill out your form and email to paulhsaea@hotmail.com or saeapresident1@gmail.com”), getting out is another story. Check out the fine print:

“I fully understand that the dues required for membership in the three associations [local, CTA, NEA] are subject to periodic change by the associations’ governing bodies and authorize dues payment on a continuing basis, and regardless of my membership status, unless my obligation to do so ends under one of the circumstances below.”

What are those circumstances?

“This agreement to pay dues continues from year to year, regardless of my membership status, unless: I revoke it by sending written notice via U.S. mail to CTA Member Services, P.O. Box 4178, Burlingame, CA 94011, not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement; my employment with the Employer ends; or as otherwise required by law.”

To summarize the “circumstances”: You’re signing up for three associations. The dues can change whenever those associations say they can. You’ll pay those dues for as long as you teach in that district.

There’s one way out: If  you want to leave the union, the new agreement states, you must snail-mail your resignation letter so that it arrives in the union’s P.O. Box (not its widely published street address) within a 30-day window before the anniversary of the day you filled out the form (“not less than thirty (30) days and not more than sixty (60) days before the annual anniversary date of this agreement”).

Clear? Of course not. And that’s the point. If this sort of contract were part of your credit card, home loan, or cell phone agreement, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau might call it a deceptive marketing practice or an improper contract disclosure.

But this is a government union, and government union leaders have little experience with recruiting members honestly. Until yesterday, they relied on force to make public employees pay the union. Now, following Janus, they’ve resorted to deception. The lesson the teachers union taught us on June 28: When coercion is illegal, and when persuasion fails, try sleight of hand.

Don’t believe the hype: Janus ruling will help public employee union members – and unions

Friedrichs v. 2.0? U.S. Supreme Court May Get a Second Chance to Free Teachers from Forced Unionism

Friedrichs 2.0? Supremes May Get a Second Chance to Free Teachers from Forced Unionism

Dear South Side Teacher

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.

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.

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Biden, Bork, García and Weingarten

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.

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.

Will the Supreme Court Do an “Abood Face?”

The decision in Harris v Quinn could be just the first shoe to drop in the fight against forced union dues.

Last month was not kind to Big Labor. First, the teachers unions in California had some of their favorite work rules knocked out of the state constitution by Judge Rolf Treu in his Vergara decision. Then, on the last day of the month, the Supreme Court agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v Quinn and ruled that homecare workers could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Vergara upset the teacher union Pooh-Bahs who just can’t believe that educators who hang on to their jobs for 16 months aren’t entitled to them for life, regardless of whether they’re good, mediocre or teachers from hell. The decision is going to be appealed and no one knows –  if the appeal fails – how the subsequent replacement laws will play out. But if Vergara got the unions in a snit, Harris has pushed them into apoplexy.

Regarding Harris, I searched the internet long and hard to find a statement from a union leader that went something like this:

The decision doesn’t harm the union movement in the least. It gives hard working men and women the freedom to choose whether or not to join us. If they do join, they will enjoy the benefits and perks that come with union membership. If they choose not to join, we will not force them to. They are free to make whatever deal that they and their employer agree to. As patriotic Americans, we believe in liberty and that means giving all workers a choice.

Okay, I confess. I really didn’t search long and hard. In fact, I didn’t search at all; it would have been a complete waste of time. Instead, we were treated to union leaders doing what they usually do when they don’t get their way: trot out the usual half-truths, fear-mongering and lies to rally the troops and garner public sympathy.  Chalkbeat reports,

‘This court has built a record of weakening the rights of both voters and working families; no one should be surprised by this decision,’ said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement.

Weingarten is saying  that one working family has a right to force a member of another working family into a union.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, defended the ‘fair share’ practice. ‘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.’

There is nothing fair about forcing a worker to pay dues to an organization that he or she does not want to belong to.

The NEA website goes deeper into the “fair share” philosophy:

All union members who enjoy the benefits, rights, and protections of a contract should, in fairness, and must, according to Illinois state law, contribute to maintaining that contract. Sometimes called ‘agency fee,’ fair share is a percentage of full union dues, based on the actual cost of collective bargaining, contract maintenance, and other services provided to all union members. 

Well yes, all those who benefit from the union contract, should pay dues. But if they don’t want any part of your contract, why are you trying to force them to pay you?

Mind you, Harris was a narrow decision. Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling drew a distinction between the home care workers and ‘full-fledged’ public employees

… who were required to pay union dues under the Court’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent in 1977. In that sense unions dodged a more sweeping decision that could have jeopardized dues payments from all public workers.

But – and this is what’s scaring the spit out of unionistas – Alito added that Abood (which maintains that it is illegal to withhold forced dues from dissenters beyond the cost of collective bargaining) is “questionable on several grounds.” Collective bargaining issues, he wrote, “are inherently political in the public sector.”

In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government… But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. (Emphasis added.)

Clearly, Alito left the door open for the court to do something of an “Abood face.” The next shoe that drops could lead to the unions’ worst nightmare – making union membership optional nationwide. (At this time 26 states are forced union states, while 24 are right-to-work.)

In fact, that “next shoe” is awaiting a fitting. Friedrichs et al v CTA is on a path to reach SCOTUS within a year or two. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International – a union alternative – taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though – as per Abood – paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are challenging the law, claiming collective bargaining is inherently political and that all union dues should be voluntary.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, was upbeat after the Harris ruling was announced.

Today’s decision is a good sign of things to come. The Court will soon have before it another union dues case, one that asks it to recognize the First Amendment rights of all employees to decide whether to pay union dues, not just home healthcare workers.

He importantly added,

We’re not attacking collective bargaining. … That’s not at issue. All we’re saying is individual teachers get to decide whether to pay dues to that organization. You can have collective bargaining and you can have a strong union, but you don’t have to have compulsory dues.

If Friedrichs is successful, and the court overturns Abood, workers will have a choice. To paraphrase President Obama, “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” But if you don’t, you can’t be forced to join. Freedom of choice – sounds like the American way to me.

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.

The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

NEA and AFT leaders cavil at Supreme Court decision that eases rules on political funding.

Nothing gives me an advanced case of the vapors quicker than the subject of political campaign finance laws. Trying to figure out who can give how much to whom and when, and how many dollars can be donated to a PAC, who is allowed to involve themselves in “dark money” and who has to report what are matters that are more confounding than trying to follow anything Harry Reid says. (Okay, that would actually be a close call.)

In any event, last week the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. While this doesn’t seem to be a radical move to me, the SCOTUS ruling did not please everyone. And perhaps the unhappiest of all were the nation’s teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a press release harrumphing:

With this ruling, the voices of everyday Americans have gotten squashed again. We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections. (Emphasis added.)

The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.

Ms. Weingarten is guilty of uttering two tired union conceits: she trots out “our children” and then blasts the “most powerful and influential” from her perch atop one of the “most powerful and influential” organizations in the country.

In a rare occurrence, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel out-demagogued his AFT counterpart in his official statement on the decision:

America’s working families lost today when the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission effectively removed meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. The ruling creates yet another loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties, candidates and multi-candidate PACs.

At a time when the lop-sided playing field unfairly benefits the haves over the have-nots, the McCutcheon decision opens the floodgates even further for corporations and the monied elite to dominate our democracy. The majority opinion goes on to strike down aggregate limits that only prevent the very richest in our society from contributing to every campaign they would like and, thereby, dominating the political discourse.

Our country was founded on the premise that democracy is not for sale. No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires. Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision guts America’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Reality-averse, Van Roekel ignores the fact that his own union is a special interest that:

a) takes advantage of “loopholes.”

b)  is a “monied elite.”

c)  dominates “the political discourse.”

d)  benefits from “Citizens United.”

The union bosses’ statements can be summed up in three simple words. “It’s not fair.” To which I say, “Is too.” (And by the way, you two, the whining is quite disingenuous.) What follows are just a few little things that should disabuse anyone of believing that these unions are selfless guardians of the disenfranchised.

The NEA and AFT combine to bring in over $550 million a year in dues. Then, as unions, they get to duck paying a penny of income tax on that half billion plus dollars.

And just what do they do with all this money? They spend a lot of it on politics. In fact, NEA is ranked #3 nationally on Open Secrets heavy-hitter list. From 1989-2014, NEA spent $58,783,738 on candidates, PACs, etc. AFT comes in at #12, spending $37,039,075 during the same 25 year period. But if you combine the two teachers unions’ political gifting they come in second, spending almost $96 million between them.

It’s important to note that these dollar amounts do not include money spent on politics by the national unions’ state and local affiliates. For example, the California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the Golden State, unleashed $290 million on politics from 2000-2013.

What the unions don’t broadcast is that much of the money they bring in is not given willingly by teachers. In 26 states and D.C., teachers must pay tribute to the union if they want to teach in a public school. (Yes, there are ways for teachers to wriggle out of the part of dues that goes to politics, but the unions make it very difficult to do so. And the lawyers of a recent lawsuit make a legitimate case that just about everything these unions do inherently involves “controversial and important political and ideological issues.”)

Also, the union leaders’ faux populism reveals itself in the destination of its largesse. According to an internal poll, NEA found that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Does the union’s spending reflect this diversity?

Hardly. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And AFT is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right of center candidates.

So when Van Roekel complains that, “No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires,” I guess he only means Democrat teachers, nurses, etc.   

The bottom line is that good people can disagree as to how best to reform our arcane campaign finance laws. But until the teachers unions begin to comport themselves with decency, honesty, and fairness, they don’t deserve anything but our scorn. 

As Kevin Williamson wrote in NRO, “This isn’t about getting rich guys out of politics — it’s about the NEA and the AFT keeping competition off the field.” And to the consternation of NEA/CTA, the Supreme Court decision will hopefully make that field just a bit more level.

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.