Too Many Teachers are Clueless on Issues Relating to Their Profession

Teachers unionIn 2006, I co-founded the California Teachers Empowerment Network, whose mission is to give educators unbiased information and to combat union spin and outright lies. While we have helped a good number of teachers, there are still way too many who are in the dark about issues that affect their professional life. A recent poll by Educators for Excellence (E4E) exemplifies this sad state of affairs.

E4E released partial survey results on May 23rd (the questions were posed in late April-early May) and the full report is due August 1st. One of the stunners is that 78 percent of all teachers had heard not much (21 percent) or nothing (57 percent) about the Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case which would free public employees nationwide from being forced to pay dues to a teachers union. Also, 47 percent of union members said they had heard nothing about the lawsuit.

A claim could be made that many teachers don’t need to know about the litigation, as they live in right-to-work states and will not be affected directly by the imminent ruling. But given the magnitude of the case, the numbers are still startling.

The lack of teacher awareness is in part due to their unions, which don’t seem to feel the need to inform their members that they may have a right to refrain from forking over $1,000 or so a year to them. While the unions are not legally bound to clue in their teachers, you’d think the organizations that constantly showboat their affection for educators would feel some moral obligation to do so. But they don’t. And when union leaders talk about the case, they often lie.

For example, after attending the Janus oral arguments in February, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “I listened as the right wing launched attack after attack on unions and on what collective bargaining gains for working people, those they serve and their communities. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor nailed the right wing’s argument, pointing out, ‘You’re basically arguing, do away with unions.’”

If that’s all a teacher heard about the case, she would be horribly misinformed. The lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with collective bargaining (CB) or eliminating unions. It is simply about giving teachers and other public employees a choice whether or not to join and pay them as a condition of employment.

Another question of note from the E4E survey asks teachers if they concur with the following: “Without collective bargaining, the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse.” A whopping 86 percent of those polled agreed (somewhat or strongly) with that statement.

But are teachers really informed about all the data that show that CB agreements actually don’t do anything good for their wages, and in fact may serve to suppress them? Just this past March, yet another study found that across the country, after CB laws went into effect, there was little change in teacher salary or education spending. The study by Agustina Paglayan, a professor at University of California, San Diego, was hardly the first research that showed the inconsequential or detrimental effects of CB.

In 2011, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli compared teachers’ salaries in school districts across the country which allow CB with those that don’t. Using data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality, he looked at 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states and found that teachers who worked in districts where the union was not involved actually made more than those who were in CB districts. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.”

In a detailed 2009 study, “The Effect of Teachers’ Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certifications in Three Midwestern States,” Stanford Professor Michael Lovenheim concluded, “I find unions have no effect on teacher pay.”

While Lovenheim’s study used data from just three states, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson, using national data, came to the same conclusion.

So, according to Paglayan, Petrilli, Lovenheim and Coulson, CB is inconsequential at best, and could actually damage a educator’s bottom line. Randi Weingarten won’t tell teachers any of this.

Weingarten also won’t tell her members about Clovis, a city in California, whose teachers have been never unionized. Yet, educators there have a voice and a role in governance. Instead of a union, they have an elected Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”

Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand dollars a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. And, while Fresno teachers are saddled with payments of over $1,100 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association, Clovis teachers aren’t burdened with union dues.

The E4E survey, among other things, points to teachers’ ignorance on many issues that directly affect them. Especially with a Janus decision imminent, it is imperative that they become more informed. Not listening to Randi Weingarten and other union leaders’ disinformation and fabrications would be a great first step.

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.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center

Government Unions: A little perspective is in order

Unions2As one who has closely followed the Janus v AFSCME case, I am amazed at the hyperbolic ranting about it from certain quarters that bombards us on a daily basis. If successful, the suit would allow government workers in 22 states the right to be employed without being forced to pay money to a union. Period.

But various interested parties have gone bonkers over Janus. An American Federation of Teachers press release claims that the case is a “blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people.” (Actually Janus will unrig the rules by replacing the 41 year-old Abood decision and give workers complete freedom of choice.

Are Teachers’ Unions on the Brink of Demise?” screamed the headline in the Feb. 13 issue of Education Week. As things stand now, the ruling will affect 22 forced union states. The other 28 states already protect worker freedom, and all of them maintain teachers’ and other public employee unions.

California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León claims the case will “cripple unions” and political commentator Arthur Schaper wrote of the teachers unions’ looming “political demise.”

Nonsense. These types of comments may move the adrenaline needle into the red zone for some, but really are quite off-target. Here is what we can count on:

The unions will not go gently into the night. Many unions are attempting to re-rig the game in their favor. California’s AB 119, for example, gives government unions access to all workers’ personal contact information and requires rookies to attend a mandatory union “orientation” meeting, during which a union huckster tries his best to convince a captive audience about the glories of union membership.

The unions have also gone to great lengths to trap workers. For example, the state teachers union in Minnesota has come out with a form that forces teachers to reject union membership on a yearly basis and within a narrow time frame. Unions in New York and California have cooked up similar schemes. It is possible, however, that should SCOTUS decide in favor in Janus, the ruling could include wording that would free any worker from a union contract immediately and permanently, thus rendering this kind of union trickery null and void.

With an assist from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, legislatures in blue states could help the unions financially. During the Friedrichscase, Sotomayor opined that the California Teachers Association “under California law is a State entity.” Of course, the teachers union is not in any way a state entity, but rather a private corporate concern with government rendered perks – like not paying a penny in income tax. No matter. Hawaii has picked up on Sotomayor’s comment, and its state legislature is considering a resolution which would ensure union solvency by dinging taxpayers for any money the union comes up short, should forced dues payments become a thing of the past. It’s safe to say that other blue states will be watching the progress of this resolution closely.

How many teachers will stop paying the union? Very hard to say. When Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association lost 25 percent of its teachers. Mike Antonucci, using information from a National Education Association leadership meeting in March, suggests that the union quit-rate nationally could be as low as 11 percent in newly freed states. Under the worst case scenario, the union could lose about 36 percent of its members.

Additionally, with greater worker freedom, more unions could disaffiliate. There is a subset of teachers who like their local union but see no reason why they have to also pay money to a state and national affiliate, which are little more than progressive political organizations. And there is major financial incentive to do so. In California, for example, CTA skims $677 and NEA $189 from each of its members every year. Local dues vary, but usually are about $200 a year. If a local decides to disaffiliate, it would appeal to many workers for financial and ideological reasons. A case in point is Clark County, Nevada, where, due to “quarrels over lobbying priorities, endorsements in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and ongoing lawsuits,” the 18,700 member union just said good bye to its state and national branches.

What will the political fallout be? The most prudent answer here would be “somewhat to considerable.” It’s no secret that teacher union political spending goes almost entirely to leftist candidates and causes. Reflecting this fact, AFT’s director of field programs for educational issues Rob Weil said that the progressive movement “will lose resources (both $$ and people) which will lessen their impact. Some social partners may, unfortunately, no longer exist.” In Michigan, after its 25 percent drop off in membership, the union cut its political spending by 49 percent. For those of us who are not of the progressive persuasion, this is indeed heartening.

Heartening. That’s about as good as it gets for now. Mike Antonucci suggests that while the unions will alter their M.O., Janus is not a game changer. Unions and school districts will still wrangle over pay, work rules, etc. and that strikes will still occur. In other words, “peace is not at hand.” 

I pretty much agree with Antonucci. But while the sun will still rise in the east with a decision for the plaintiff, it could be the first important step in a process that would truly level the playing field. More on this soon.

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.

What Janus v. AFSCME could mean for California

Supreme CourtOn Monday, the United States Supreme Court heard 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 is 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.

This article was originally published by the Southern California News Group

Union lies and chicanery in high gear as right-to-work case heads to Supreme Court

Supreme CourtAmong the greatest myths in recent history include the belief that Che Guevara was a freedom fighter, that China in the 20th Century was a “People’s Republic” and “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” We can now officially add some egregious comments made by union bosses in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s willingness to hear the Janus v. AFSCME case.

Mark Janus, a child support specialist who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, is compelled to send part of his paycheck to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Janus, who is being represented by the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Foundation, says, “When I was hired by the state of Illinois, no one asked if I wanted a union to represent me. I only found out the union was involved when money for the union started coming out of my paychecks.”

The lawsuit is a sequel to Friedrichs v. CTA, which was headed to a SCOTUS victory last year until Antonin Scalia’s death short-circuited the case. But right-to-work proponents are optimistic that his replacement, Neil Gorsuch, will come down as the fifth vote on the side of employee freedom. As things stand now, public employees in 22 states are forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

Obviously, a favorable ruling in Janus would put a serious dent in in the coffers of government unions. And they are not reacting well to that possibility. In a press release issued by several union leaders after the Janus announcement, many of the comments are simply outrageous. As Mike Antonucci points out, the words “working people” are used 12 times. The union leaders seem to think that “working people” are a monolith with the exact same ideas, beliefs and general worldview. Just a few of the lies:

This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor.

…corporations, wealthy interests and politicians have manufactured Janus as part of their long and coordinated war against unions.

Their goal here, as it was in Friedrichs v. CTA, is no secret: they want to use the Supreme Court to take away the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions.

These quotes, and many others like it, lead the reader to assume that evil rich corporate cabalists have banded together to outlaw labor unions. Of course, the case is simply about giving workers a choice whether or not to join a union as a condition of employment. Period. But as with any totalitarian entity, honesty is a virtue that is shoved aside when its agenda is endangered.

At points, the bilge can be almost comical.

George Leef, director of research at the Martin Center, wrote recently about a lawsuit in West Virginia, where the AFL-CIO desperately tried to overturn the state’s new right-to-work law. The union whined in court that making it voluntary to join would do them irreparable harm and should be stayed pending a challenge to its constitutionality. After finding a friendly lower court judge who was sympathetic to that audacious argument, the state’s Supreme Court overruled her decision.

Can you imagine a bank robber claiming to a judge that he’d undergo irreparable harm if he couldn’t keep the money he had forcibly obtained in a heist?

Not comical, however, is one union’s action, which shows the desperate lengths they will go to keep their bottom line healthy. The Center for the American Experiment has unearthed a disgraceful move by Education Minnesota, the National Education Association affiliate in the Gopher State. Anticipating an unfavorable Janus decision, the union has come up with a new form which includes the following wording:

I agree to submit dues to Education Minnesota and hereby request and voluntarily authorize my employer to deduct from my wages an amount equal to the regular monthly dues uniformly applicable to members of Education Minnesota or monthly service fee, and further that such amount so deducted be sent to such local union for and on my behalf. This authorization shall remain in effect and shall be automatically renewed from year to year, irrespective of my membership in the union, unless I revoke it by submitting written notice to both my employer and the local union during the seven-day period that begins on September 24 and ends on September 30. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, saying, “Good-by, sayonara, no thanks” to the union once isn’t good enough. You have to do it every year and within a very narrow time frame. Can you imagine a woman who finally gets a divorce after being stuck for years in an unhappy marriage, being told, “Okay, but you have to notify the court every year that you want to stay divorced. And if you miss the seven day opt-out period, you’re stuck with the SOB for another year.”

The teachers unions are in trouble and they know it. A recent Education Next poll reveals that teachers are more likely to oppose forced dues than to support them, by a 47 to 44 percent margin. What we don’t know is how many will stop paying the union if given a choice.

Nationally, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that just 10.7 percent of all U.S. workers are unionized, with government workers being over represented; 34 percent of all teachers are unionized.

Should Mark Janus be successful in freeing himself from forced dues payments, that 34 percent could shrink considerably, in spite of the union lies and flimflam that will undoubtedly escalate.

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.