Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Pay to Play

An interesting court case is winding its way toward the Supreme Court.   Sensing an opening, a conservative group is asking the Court to strike down laws in Maryland, California, Illinois and about 20 other states which require public employees to pay fees to the union even though they choose not to belong to the union.
Here is the deal.  In most states teachers'  unions negotiate contracts for all teachers in the district.  All teachers in the districts get the benefits of those negotiations whether they are members of the union or not.  The unions have argued that it is not fair for those teachers to get a free ride of having the union negotiate benefits without having to pay the costs of such negotiations.   The non-union teachers have argued that they are being forced to support the speech of the union even when they do not agree with it.  In some states, unions have secured what are known as "fair share fees".   Although formulas for these fees differ, essentially the unions factor out the cost of any union political activity and fair share payers only pay for the costs of negotiations.  Unions say this is a common sense way to provide equity.
Voices on the other side say that they should not be required to pay money to a private organization (i.e. the union) in order to hold a public employee position.  These people also argue that their salaries are determined by the amount of money available for salaries and have nothing to do with union negotiations.  They do not address other benefit issues such as planning time, hours required to work or responsibilities.
The country is split almost down the middle.   At least 24 states have "right-to-work" laws which forbid forced-fee arrangements with unions.   Mostly these states are in the south, the Great Plains and more recently Michigan and Indiana.  The coastal states have generally maintained the pro-union fees.
Teachers associations are arguing strenuously that the Supreme Court should not allow the case to be heard.  They say it is unnecessary since there are state laws already established. But conservative groups see an opening with comments by Justice Alito who has written several recent opinions on the "bedrock principles" of the First Amendment.  He has said that no citizen should be required to subsidize the speech of another.
All unions are under pressure.   Manufacturing jobs, the great underpinning of unions, have decreased.  And as some of these jobs have come back, they are non-union shops.  Unions have been blamed for the downfall of the American auto and steel industries.  The two huge supports for teachers unions are the fair share payments and the dues payroll check offs.  If fair share goes, payroll check offs will be next in line.
The elephant in the living room is where were these teachers unions when laws like No Child Left Behind were passed and have beaten kids and teachers into the ground.

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