Getting the facts to people who have been lied to for decades is essential for change.

In my latest City Journal post, I argue in favor of an initiative that will be on the ballot in California in November.

Proposition 32, which will appear on the November general-election ballot, would ban unions and most corporations from making direct contributions to state and local candidates. The measure would also bar government contractors from contributing to political campaigns. The most significant provision, though – the one giving public-employee unions, especially the California Teachers Association, fits – would prohibit corporations, unions, and government employers from deducting money from workers’ paychecks to use for political purposes.

Chris, a commenter to my article, dismissed my argument, claiming that,

It is very easy to opt-out of the payroll deductions, which amount to about 6 dollars a year per teacher.

When I read such comments, I have to wonder where Chris gets his misinformation. Assuming he isn’t pulling it out of a hat, he is getting it from someone he trusts, very probably his local teachers union. And, sad to say, there are many thousands of Chris’s who form opinions and vote on erroneous data. It brought back bad memories from 2005 when Prop. 75, the last paycheck protection initiative on the ballot, sought to ban “the use by public employee labor organizations of public employee dues or fees for political contributions except with the prior consent of individual public employees each year on a specified written form.” The prop was popular early in the campaign, but after CTA blasted ads over the summer in which they spouted lie after lie and managed to scare teachers (and the general public), it was voted down. Infuriated that CTA’s deceitfulness and demagoguery were so readily believed, I cofounded the California Teachers Empowerment Network in 2006.

Anyway, back to Chris and his $6 figure. The truth is quite different. Throughout California, almost all teachers belong to three unions – their local, a state affiliate (usually CTA) and a national union (usually NEA). Dues vary from year to year and in 2011-2012, teachers’ union dues broke down this way:
NEA – $178
CTA – $647
Local – varies (typically $200-$300)

What many California teachers don’t know is that they don’t have to belong to a union. By resigning from the union (and losing voting privileges and liability insurance) a teacher becomes what’s called an agency fee payer. As such, the teacher still has to pay the union the full dues amount, but can get a yearly rebate for monies that the unions “claim” they spend on politics. (I say “claim” because it is generally understood that the unions spend much more on politics than they admit to. In addition, there are many gray-area expenditures, like if a teachers union sends members a letter telling them to vote for a certain state assemblyman, the cost of the mailer and the postage don’t get counted as political spending, but rather as communication costs.)

What can someone who resigns from the union expect in the way of a rebate? As an example, the following rebate percentages were furnished by Sacramento-area teacher-blogger Darren Miller.
NEA – 56%
CTA – 28.6%
Local – 28.6%

This means, for example, that Miller, an agency fee payer, got back 28.6% of his CTA dues which amounted to $185 (28.6% of $647.) Same principle holds for NEA and his local. Hence, he received a rebate check last year for $358.20.

But there is an even bigger question here. Even if Prop. 32 flies and unions can’t deduct the political part of their dues from a member’s paycheck, I have to wonder why the government (i.e. the taxpayer) is involved at all in the collection of monies for a union – a private, non-tax paying, multimillion dollar corporation. In short, why can’t the union collect its own dues?

The answer, of course, is that if the union had to do it, it would lose millions because many teachers wouldn’t bother paying up. This is just what happened in Wisconsin after Act 10 became law.

In the nearly 15 months since Mr. Walker signed the law, 6,000 of the AFT’s Wisconsin 17,000 members quit, the union said. It blamed the drop on the law.

WEAC, the other teachers union in Wisconsin, has lost almost a quarter of its membership (20,000 teachers) since the advent of Act 10, with more sure to follow when their contracts end in June 2013.

And just how do the unions justify payroll deduction of dues?

Bob Chanin, then-general counsel of the National Education Association, explained it in 1978: “It is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers. . . [They] simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose.”

Seems to me that it’s time that “the beasts who are our teachers” and the general public, who get taken to the cleaners on a regular basis, rise up against their abusers. A Yes vote on Prop. 32 in California would be a good place to start.

About the author: 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.

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