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

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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.



Is your union looking out for teachers or for its own pocket?

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© Paynich

And the truth comes out! The remainder of this article talks about the potential money lost to unions if union dues were voluntary:

If the Supreme Court overturns Abood, it would change the political landscape drastically. When Wisconsin’s Act 10 made teacher union membership voluntary, the unions in that state lost about one-third of their membership and a substantial amount of clout. If the same percentage of teachers quit the California Teachers Association, the union would lose approximately $62 million a year in dues. Considering the teachers’ union spent more than $290 million on candidates, ballot measures, and lobbying between 2000 and 2013—by far the most of any political player in the Golden State—such a loss would be crushing. And it’s no secret that CTA spending moves almost exclusively in a leftward direction. Between 2003 and 2012, the union gave $15.7 million to Democratic candidates and just $92,700 to Republicans—a ratio of roughly 99 to one. CTA has also spent millions promoting controversial causes such as same-sex marriage and single-payer healthcare, while opposing voter ID laws and limitations of the government’s power of eminent domain.

With such potential losses at stake, it makes sense that union would go to extreme measures such as in MI where teachers have a window of 30 days in August to officially opt out of union membership. And if you opt-out too early or too late there is nothing you can do but pay the dues. Or MI union will send your dues to collections. How is THAT protecting teachers?

And the “fourth co-equal branch of government” wouldn’t be the only teachers’ union to learn what it’s like to live on voluntary contributions. The National Education Association, which hauled in nearly $363 millionin forced dues in 2013–2014 and spent about $132 million of it on issue advocacy, would have to curtail its political largess considerably. Like the CTA, the NEA spends almost exclusively on progressive groups and causes. Over the years, the union has lavished gifts on People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH, and the Center for American Progress. Not surprisingly, the union’s political spending by party is lopsided, too. Between 1989 and 2014, the union directed just 4 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans, usually backing the least conservative candidate in a primary election fight.

With all of these political contributions its easy to see how plaintiffs in CA have filed a lawsuit against the loss of their union privileges due to opting of of paying the political dues percentage. They are paying the other ~ 65% in agency fees – that doesn’t cover their extra maternity, life insurance and other benefits? How is THAT protecting teachers?

Like most union leaders, recently termed-out NEA president Dennis Van Roekel insists that all teachers should be required to pay the union. “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,” he said in June. Sounds reasonable. But what Van Roekel doesn’t mention is that the unions demand exclusive bargaining rights for all teachers. Teachers in monopoly bargaining states have no choice but to toe the union line. There is nothing “fair” about forcing a worker to pay dues to a union they wouldn’t otherwise join. If Friedrichsis successful and Abood is overturned, it would be a great victory for true freedom of association.

Of course an NEA president says everyone needs to pay their fair share of union dues. But as the article says there is no alternative. Teachers aren’t allowed to negotiate their own salaries. Why not? Why can’t they just negotiate them at the their interview like other professionals? Because of the law is not an acceptable answer. I want the theory based answer. Do unions think teachers are ill-equipped to negotiate their own salaries? That does not sound like the way you respect professionals.


Will someone please explain these “agency fees” numbers?

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I have been asking this question for some time, with no answers. How is the percentage for “agency fees” calculated? How much money do they “need” for collective bargaining activities? I am very much doubt that the only monies used for political activities is the 30-40% paid in union dues for that purpose.

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 the CTA that it 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 we all know what they spent the political money on….but where does the $211,250,000 Million go to? Does it REALLY cost that much to pay staff to negotiate contracts and answer phones or whatever they are doing. Maybe it does when unions drag out negotiations (they have to allocate for the funds somehow!)

Do we not believe that $325 Million isn’t better spent by our teachers?

And lets not forget in this post I encountered numbers that state that “By contrast, nearly 600 staffers at the NEA and AFT are raking in six-figure salaries, according to Association of American Educators (AAE) Executive Director Gary Beckner.”

600 staffers between NEA and AFT making 6 figures. How many teachers are making 6 figures? How many teachers are making 6 figures and shouldn’t be and how many should be and are not?

Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. Requiring teachers to pay these “agency fees” assumes that collective bargaining is non-political.  But bargaining with local governments is inherently political.  Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.


CTA is California’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 325,000 public school teachers, counselors, psychologists, librarians, other non-supervisory certificated personnel, and Education Support Professionals. It is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.

I am proud to be a Truth Campaign Blogger

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Recently reported by Alternet & Politico a Truth Campaign for Teachers & Students has launched and I am blogger within it’s community. Yes it’s true! And I am proud of the work we do together and appreciate the opportunity to have a supportive structure to blog.

I’ve tried to write an education focused blog, 2, 3, 4 times…I lost count. I enjoyed working with Alexander Russo to collect his morning news and occasionally write a content post back in 2006, but I’ve never been successful with my own personal blog. That lack of success also means that my ideas, hopes, dreams for kids, and the dissatisfaction I have with the education system today never get heard. No one listens unless you are someone important. I may need to run for office in my own county just to get a voice.

It is difficult to break into a community that quite honestly, has nothing better to do but write blog posts and post tweets (John Thompson). Just because I can’t and don’t spend time on blogging and tweeting all day, just because I am not working in a school, or an education service organization, or a research organization, does not mean that my observations, experiences and ideas are invalid. They are extremely valid and the observations, experiences and ideas parents, community members, students, taxpayers – may actually help us change and improve education for all. Because, quite honestly, it doesn’t seem like all the paid education folks are getting it done – on either side of the argument. And the reality is we need the community to be part of the solution and right now they are largely being ignored. Because the only people being heard are the ones getting paid or the ones burning fires.

The Truth Campaign gives the opportunity for regular people – parents, teachers, community members, activists to have their voices heard in an arena that is largely ignoring us. The little bit of money we earn helps motivate us to write, but it also helps validate that we have real stories to tell and that the Truth Campaign wants our stories to be heard. We help each other with learning about social media strategies and some of us who never used twitter before (myself included) have gained real skills in social media. We know that we are not the only ones and it feels like more of a community effort when we community with each other each week. Writing a blog on your own can be daunting and it helps to have others to help inspire you. I’ve learned about more issues in other parts of the country that I was never aware of before by getting to know Truth Campaign bloggers.

Some corrections in the media reporting:

I never saw an email as described in the Alternet article. I was told about the blogging opportunity by a close friend of mine in GA.

I am not required to write any posts at all or any number of posts, or in any frequency, such as a weekly quota,

NO ONE EDITS MY BLOG POSTS! Much to my reader’s dismay when they find a typo… this person with nothing better to do:

editting issue I’m also a bit insulted that everyone is calling it “StudentsFirst” agenda. The education reform movement is not based on    StudentsFirst’s agenda. My blog posts are about what “I” think is best for schools. The media is just trying very hard to tie us to  any organization, because they don’t believe that regular normal people have valid opinions about education policy. And that  we may very well be part of the solution.

In this past post, I challenge the assertion that I am getting paid to post or tweet specific words or ideas. If I can’t support a  topic with my own experience and passion, I don’t write it.

As I was quoted in Politico: As for the stipend, neither Piliser or Paynich would discuss it, except to say that it’s not a full-time salary. “When I become important enough to have my salary posted publicly,” Paynich said, “then I guess you’ll know how much I make.”

CA case against union dues pursues U.S. Supreme Court

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© Paynich

I’ve been deeply engaged in the issues around teacher’s unions dues. I recently discovered a variety of disturbing tactics in MI:

Union in Taylor, MI tried to circumvent right-to-work law and lost

MEA attempts to ruin credit of 8,000 teachers

Teachers Union puts up smoke screen while they deny workers their rights

Here is what has been playing out in CA:

Vergara v. California ruled in June that some of the teachers’ work rules—including tenure, seniority, and dismissal laws—violated the state and federal constitutions.

That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v. Quinn, holding that home healthcare workers could not be forced to pay agency shop fees to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Here’s commentary from the article:

Treu’s ruling in Vergara v. California inflicted a flesh wound on the teachers’ unions, but Harris sent them reeling. The only way that the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision could have been worse for the unions is if the justices had decided to broaden it to cover all public employees, not just a subset of them. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito drew a distinction between the home workers and “full-fledged” public employees, who currently must pay dues as delineated in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision.

Note to John Thompson – Now I see exactly why union dues are compulsory – But just because it is law does not make it true! And here we have a case that may very well overturn Abood and then what will you say?

Friedrichs et al v. CTA pits ten teachers and a union alternative called the Christian Educators Association International against the powerful California Teachers Association. The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by attorneys working with the Center for Individual Rights, takes aim at California’s “agency shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though (per Abood) paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers challenging the statute echo Alito’s point out that collective bargaining is inherently political, and therefore all union dues should be voluntary. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November issued an order that clears the way for the plaintiffs to petition the Supreme Court. If the justices grant certiorari, a decision could come in 2016.

And John Thompson, here is why all collective bargaining is inherently political – a much cleaner way to describe it than I did. Care to respond?

Alito’s opinion left the door open for a more expansive court ruling later. He noted that Abood (which holds that the state may force public-sector workers to pay union dues while carving out an exception for the funds that unions spend on political activity) is questionable on several grounds, and went so far as to suggest that collective bargaining issues are inherently political in the public sector. Alito explained, “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.” Taking Alito’s reasoning to its logical next step, paying fees to a public-employee union would become voluntary in the 26 states, including California, where it’s now compulsory.

I’m excited to see if the Supreme Court accepts this case. I will be watching and maybe will even make a trip to DC for the case!

Anecdotes are reality; research is subjective

A twitter comment appeared on my post this and then disappeared, however, I received an email with the comment so it still stands.

twitter peer research vs anecdotes

We may all like research, we may think it’s real cool and all that, but its not usually reality. Anecdotes are reality – its whats really happening in our schools, our communities and our lives. When we ignore anecdotes and only focus on research, we get the wrong answers.

So, in response to this commentator – We need my anecdotal blog to help share real stories about real people so we can find the real root problems with education and work towards their solutions. Researchers spend a great deal of time on all of the exterior parts of education – buildings, curriculum, testing, teachers, book…etc. And hardly ever think about what a student is thinking about sitting at their desk at school. The way that kids think and feel – about themselves and their school – are what really matter. Kids are the only ones who can really turn education around and we’re not doing enough to value their thoughts and their feelings.

Research misses stories like these:

She is entering Kindergarten next year. It’s too late for her to go to a public charter school to get picked for the lottery. The schools around one of her homes (she has 3—long story, don’t ask) is BAD, the school around her other home is WORSE and the school around her last home is THE WORST. She’s a smart kid and I only want the best for her. Private school isn’t a viable option at this point.

Why can’t I have a quiet classroom?

This was written as an answer on a test question: I don’t know, why don’t you tell me the answer? I don’t know what I am doing and I’m never going to amount to anything

Parents who can’t get responses from school administration

Parents who can’t afford to move away from troubled schools

School principals who are so entitled and stubborn than the community develops their own charter school

Real things are happening that research doesn’t cover or reach. Maybe if researchers spent a little more time in schools and communities they would see these things. But often research comes from people who have little or no hands on experience in the field and simply kept going to school and now have a PhD or something of the sort. Experience should trump “years of college” everytime but apparently it does not.


If you believe Randi’s tweets are legit, I deserve same courtesy

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© Paynich

There have been more accusations lately that my tweets are “paid for.” Let’s be clear. Every single person who works for any organization (and is paid for it) who ALSO tweets on behalf of that organization is getting “paid to tweet” including Randi W. The accusation (that no one bothers to specifically articulate) is that I don’t actually believe or write my own tweets but that I post them exclusively because I am paid to do so.

Do you believe that Randi W earnestly believes the words that she writes? If so, then it is extremely disingenuous to accuse me of such a thing. Especially since Randi makes over 1000x what I make. So I would say if anyone had an incentive to “post what they are paid to write and not what they believe” it would be Randi W. If I were making $500K a year I’d do whatever you told me to do.

All I am saying is that if Randi is legit, then you need to give me the same courtesy. My tweets and blog posts are supported by my experience and not a reflection of what anyone instructs me to write. Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that I am brutally honest and not afraid to express my opinion and my thoughts.

Here is the bio posted in the About section of my blog:

Originally from Warwick, RI, I earned a political science degree at Trinity University in Washington D.C. Soon after I earned a School Counseling Master’s degree at Assumption College. I completed my school counseling practicum at a middle school in Worcester, MA, an undeserved middle school with a diverse population.

While in Worcester I took a position as a parent organizer with Stand for Children MA. STAND MA had just successful passed legislation tying tenure to teacher evaluations vs. the traditional unionized model. Naturally, this campaign destroyed Stand’s relationships in Worcester a heavily union city. I took on the role of rebuilding our image in Worcester. The previous organizer wasn’t actually organizing, she was just working the policy angle. I told everyone that I was here to be an organizer and as long as I am here, that’s exactly what I intend to do. We won back a great deal of respect and relationships in the year I was with Stand and had even turned one of our greatest dissenters.

Right now, I am an education blogger and real estate agent while I build the capital to start a community based school counseling organization focused on middle school students. I had always wanted to be a teacher, but when I was in high school, I thought teachers didn’t make enough money, so I decided to go into politics to help teachers make more money. I started out strongly in support of unions.

I particularly remember blindly supporting a Warwick Teacher’s union demand in 2003 when I graduated from high school. It wasn’t until Junior year if college that I realized teacher pay is a massively more complicated issue and not at all what I expected. We advocated and my younger sister gained admission to the public charter school, The MET in Providence, RI. The MET champions alternative education, something all school should look closer at.

One of my saddest experiences were as a guidance intern in Worcester. I could work diligently with a student for a 30 min session – but know that I have to send him right back to the awful teachers for the majority of the day. There were maybe a handful of great teachers in the school, a handful of down right disrespectful, uninterested, unengaged teachers full of entitlement and the rest were pretty mediocre. And I know this is not unusual.

I also volunteered with Communities in Schools in Atlanta at one of the lowest performing middle schools in DeKalb County, GA. I observed ineffective unengaged substitute teachers, mediocre teachers and even spent time with a  TFA/Harvard Education graduate. Even with all the tools and strategies that I know great teachers possess, it was still extremely difficult to maintain progress in class and class composure. One student asked my why she can’t have a quiet classroom. I had no idea what I should tell her.

We need wide, sweeping, dramatic change. That’s why I support education reform. While unions are not the exclusive reason we aren’t moving forward they have their hand in it and definitely make efforts to hold us back. We need great teachers and great principals in EVERY school.

Other notable roles in education & community I have held:
East Lake YMCA Volunteer of the Year Award 2014, Atlanta, GA – for my work building a middle school college and career readiness program

Decatur Citizens Police Academy Training

Treasurer & Voter Outreach Coordinator, DeKalb (County) Young Democrats

Board Member, Advisory Board for Alisha Thomas Morgan for State School Superintendent

Neighborhood Watch Coordinator, Midway Woods Neighborhood Association, Decatur, GA

United Way VIP Board Program Graduate

DeKalb County CASA Volunteer

Communities in Schools Volunteer, DeKalb County middle school

College Track volunteer, East Lake YMCA Teen & Youth Development Center, Atlanta, GA

Worcester Organizer, STAND for Children Massachusetts

Mentor, Refugee Independence through Service Enhancement (RISE) Program

Mentor, Real Connections Program, Rhode Island Foster Parent Association

Providence Children’s Initiative, Promise Neighborhoods Project (Harlem Children’s Zone model), Providence, RI

Volunteer, Math Volunteer Program, Newport Public Schools, RI

Lead Organizer, Moderate Party of RI, Warwick, RI

Volunteer Team Leader, Young Heroes Program, City Year Rhode Island

Executive Assistant, USAction, Washington, DC

Research Intern, Center on Education Policy, Washington, DC

News Blogger, This Week In Education with Alexander Russo 

Intern, The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE)

Intern, U.S. Department of Education, Washington DC

Intern, Office of Senator Jack Reed, Washington DC

Tutor, Maya Angelou Public Charter School and Academy       

Tutor, Project North Star