Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I refuse to join...

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case on this point- well sort of.   It is a re-run of a similar case last session when the Court only had 8 members and tied 4-4, leaving the lower court decision in place.
What is at issue could impact  the requirement in twenty-two states, including Maryland, that teachers who do not choose to join the teachers’ union must pay what is called an agency fee.  The agency fee is supposed to be the organization’s dues minus any expense for lobbying by the organization.  In practice, the fee and dues are very close to each other.  Last year, a California teacher (Friedrichs) took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.  During oral arguments Justice Scalia signaled that he would vote with the conservative side to overrule the 70-year old Abode decision that allowed these closed shops.  Unfortunately, Justice Scalia died and the Court deadlocked at 4 all. 
This case, Janus, gives the Court another bite at that apple.   The case involves Janus and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another public-sector union.  Janus is an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.  He has approximately $50 withheld from his pay each month for agency dues.  Oral arguments are scheduled for January or February, 2018.  A decision is not expected before spring.
The big question is how will this decision impact education and teachers’ unions.  Now that the Court is back at full strength and Gorsuch, the new justice, is considered a strict conservative, it is expected that this 70-year old precedent will go down in flames.  Teachers’ unions are concerned.  They, too, are public sector unions.
The position of the unions is pretty straight forward.  When they go to battle for raises and other health and benefit services for teachers, everyone enjoys the fruits of their labors, member or not.   They contend it is not fair for non-members to reap these benefits.  The legislature in Maryland has agreed with this position and required public schools in Maryland to essentially be closed shops.  You either pay the agency fee or join the union, there is no middle ground.   And unlike the approximately $50 a month that Janus spends for the agency fee, union fees in MD run over $100 a month depending on the local dues.  Should Janus win his case, there are people standing by in all of those 22 states with agency shops for teachers and other public service employees just waiting to challenge the agency shop.
Besides working for salary increases, union contracts put into place protections for teachers (and other employees) that make it extremely difficult to terminate employment and make it very difficult for the school administration to make changes that could benefit the students or the system.   Teacher unions almost NEVER lobby for benefits for the kids.  Their position is always, what’s good for teachers is ultimately good for kids.  Sort of new version of the trickle down economic theory.  It is easy to understand why some teachers do not want to be a member of the union.  As Groucho once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

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