Agency fee paying employees across public sector unions

Agency fee paying employees across public sector unions

John Thompson challenged me to look at other public sector unions, after accusing me of singling out teachers unions for political purposes.

In this watchdog.org article, the author demonstrates that over 250,000 public sector workers had their agency fee dues forcibly taken from their paychecks.

Public-sector unions took forced dues from more than 250,000 public employees in 2013, some, but not all, of the labor unions that take mandatory “agency fees” from public employees must report the number of agency fee payers to the U.S. Department of Labor each year.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had 130,920 agency fee payers in 2013 while National Education Association had 88,378. Service Employees International Union reported 243,799 agency fee payers. Many of the employees represented by SEIU work in the private sector.

DOL defines agency fee payers as “those who make payments in lieu of dues to the reporting labor organization as a condition of employment under a union security provision in a collective bargaining agreement.” Public-sector unions can impose agency fees in 23 states.

The writer goes on to say what too many folks are hesitant to admit these days:

“Unions were first developed years ago to protect workers but too often, in today’s world, they exist solely for one thing and one thing only — raw, crass political power,” Brett Healy, president of the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute, told Watchdog.org via email. “Big Labor bosses are more worried about supplying politicians with donations than the wellbeing of the rank-n-file or what is best for the rest of us — the taxpayers.

Remember, Unions first constituent is the employee, not students, or patients, or tax payers – but to the employee. It’s about self preservation – even if the unions agreed that they were outdated and perhaps unnecessary, who is going to give up a position of power (with taxpayer money) or the 600 employees with 6 figure salaries?

I just wrote about the language in the Lawrence teacher’s contract and how I didn’t like how the funds were transferred from district to union. Here is another reason why:

Determining the total number of agency fee payers nationwide is difficult because certain public-sector unions — including those with less than $250,000 in revenue — are exempt from many DOL reporting requirements.

Additionally, American Federation of Teachers and other large unions representing government workers do not report a total number of agency fee payers because of the way workers’ money flows to each union’s headquarters through state and local chapters.

Hmmm, might this have anything to do with the fact that the agency fee is the same for members and non members? Bet it gets more confusing when the lump sum is transferred from school district to union – the accounting must get lost in translation. And is NEA can report agency fee payers, AFT can’t figure it out.

Bain v CTA is addressing the issue of having to contribute to a political organization you may not agree with:

“Why should one be forced to hand over their hard-earned money to a political organization they may not agree with? We live in the land of the free not the land of forced association,” Healy said.

“Luckily in Wisconsin, Act 10 has put rank-n-file government workers and the taxpayers back in charge. Government unions are not allowed to forcibly remove any dues or fees from a worker’s paycheck,” Healy added. “If an employee wants to be in a union, they can write the check themselves.”

Yes, just let them write the check themselves in a voluntary manner. Then unions can demonstrate their value and listen to more of their public employees when making policy decisions. With auto-deduction of member and agency fee payers – there is little incentive to work harder to listen to employees.

The article also has an extensive list of various states public unions and their number of agency fee payers for 2013.

 

Bain v. CTA – Are Political Union Dues a violation of free speech?

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

Bain v. California Teachers Association, recently filed in CA challenges the requirement that the political portion of the dues payment be made in order to receive the extra union benefits from maternity and disability coverage to life insurance to legal representation.

But the facts of the case and the story of the primary plaintiff is very interesting to read.

Bhavini Bhakta, 33, is an award-winning teacher, a lifelong Democrat and a “100 percent believer in my union.”

Bhakta saw her union dues working against her in spring 2013 when she went to Sacramento to testify in support of Senate Bill 441, which would have changed teacher evaluations in much of the state from a binary “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” rating to a four-tiered system that would provide more feedback and accountability. She was more than a little stunned and annoyed to hear a CTA lobbyist testify that teachers “don’t want this” and would find such evaluations “degrading.” The bill died when six senators failed to vote.

“That’s where it hit me: There is a big, big change that needs to happen,” Bhakta said. “We have a very monetarily equipped organization that is fighting for the exact opposite of what I and many other teachers are fighting for.”

Worse yet, that lobbying effort came out of dues deducted from the paychecks of Bhakta and other teachers.

Note to unions – not all teachers agree with your positions! AND all they are asking is that they don’t have to pay their meager “political” portion to you while still maintaining, arguably some of the more tangible benefits from maternity and disability coverage to life insurance to legal representation. They aren’t even asking you to stop or to change your position. That’s awful selfish of you.

There is something terribly wrong when a union can deny a teacher’s access to maternity benefits while providing up to $35,000 to another teacher’s criminal defense simply on the basis of whether the teacher contributes to the union’s political and lobbying causes. It’s unfair, undemocratic — and, as the lawsuit alleges, most likely unconstitutional on free-speech grounds.

Yea, I think we can all agree with that.

Huffington Post covers more of this story:

This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech. About one in 10 teachers in California have opted out of paying the portion of dues supporting politicking and lobbying.

Across California, public school teachers are being forced to choose between important employment benefits like paid maternity leave and their own political values,” plaintiff Bhavini Bhakta, a teacher at the Arcadia Unified School District, said in a press release. “It’s unfair. I appreciate my union and want to stay a member. But I don’t want to be forced to fund political activities that contradict my core beliefs about education.”

Here is an excerpt from Randi’s response:

In a statement on Monday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten accused StudentsFirst of hypocrisy by trying to restrict the unions’ capacity to engage in the political process at the same time that it has worked “to stifle the voices of teachers, and strip them of collective bargaining and other rights and tools to do their jobs.”

“Sadly, this lawsuit is attempting to use the First Amendment to stifle speech, not enhance it,” Weingarten said.

Notice the lack of compassion for the teachers in this case? And in terms of protecting the rights of teachers? I haven’t seen much of that – especially through this post I wrote about whether the unions are working for teachers or for themselves. If Randi thinks that the union’s free speech will be “stifled” with a few dollars less in its coffers, how does she think teachers feel when they see their money advocating directly against them? Who is really loosing the free speech?

NEA Response:

“The Bain lawsuit attacks the right of a membership organization to restrict the benefits of membership to those who actually pay dues,” Alice O’Brien, general counsel for the NEA, said in a statement. “No court has accepted the notion that providing benefits only to members violates the First Amendment. We are confident that this latest attack by StudentsFirst will be equally unsuccessful.”

Hmm, ok. So, I know that the Abood decision required that individuals benefiting from the collective bargaining to pay the “agency fees” of up to 70% of the union dues. Yet “membership” only counts for the remaining 30-40% of the dues? Even we believed that….let’s tease this out some more.

In a previous post I tried to unwrap the union dues to see where the money is going. Here’s what I calculated for CTA:

Lets look at some numbers. Below, this article tells me that CA union dues are ~ $1,000/teacher/year. This fact sheet tells me that CTA  represents ~ 325,000 educators. Let split the difference here: “they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining” and just say 35 % political and 65% agency fees for “collective bargaining.”

$1,000 x 325,000 = $325,000,000!! so many zeros I was blinded by the computer trying to read them! OK so lets split that into political (35%) and agency fees (65%)

Political =  $113,750,000; Agency fees= $211,250,000

So I would argue that unions spend more than the “allocation” for political activities by dipping into the agency fees. But I digress.

Let’s assume the $113.75 million is spent on political activities. Is that also where the Maternity, disability and legal representation are also paid from? Because that is the pool of money of which you have to pay into to to get the benefits.

But, I am willing to bet that the costs for those extra benefit programs actually derives from the pool of agency fees which is $211.250 million. Assuming that’s correct and all individuals benefiting from the collective bargaining must pay the agency fee – wouldn’t they also be eligible for ALL of the benefits paid for out of the agency fees. I mean they are already paying the outrageous agency fee that no one can explain to me how it is allocated.

So the NEA’s assertion that they can decide which benefits members get and which they don’t, I’d say these teachers are ALREADY paying you an enormous “agency fee” and you are going to tell them they can’t have the extra benefits because they don’t meet your definition of membership? I bet you every teacher feels like a member since they pay the agency fee against their will.

More from the LA Times

The lawsuit argues that federally guaranteed 1st Amendment rights apply in this case, and that they should override practices in California.

“The 1st Amendment does not tolerate this unequal treatment based on a teacher’s political views,” said attorney Theodore J. Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which is handling the case.