How has your association been helped by having a professional representative guiding you through a contract negotiations?
As a professional educator, my education and training has prepared me for being an effective teacher, however it never prepared me for how to successfully represent employees at disciplinary hearings in danger of losing their jobs or how to prepare and negotiate a comprehensive labor agreement. G&A has brought to the negotiating table an experienced and polished professional negotiating staff and labor attorneys who are experts in their fields and at the top of their game.
How Do the Big Teacher’s Unions Get Away With Such High Dues?
As a California public school student through high school, son of a public school employee, and a long time coach at a public school for fifteen years, I have seen how hard the majority of teachers work, despite the obstacles they are forced to deal with on a daily basis. As a labor attorney, I am shocked at that these same dedicated and intelligent teachers have tolerated and continue to tolerate being represented by a union that takes from them much more than what it gives them.
Over the past couple of years, and especially since last March when I have taken a more active role in helping to represent the Horizon Certificated Employees Association (HCEA), a public charter school teachers association, I have started looking into what the traditional, “big” teachers unions offer their members, and at what price.
The standard union dues for a full time teacher in California is about $650/year for the state association and another $175 for the national association. The local association keeps another $100-$300. The part-time dues are lower proportionally. That comes out to over $100 per month since most teachers are paid on a ten month contract.
What do these teachers get for these high dues? Surely they must get an attorney to represent them if they are being investigated for discipline or have a professional labor negotiator working for them to negotiate their contract or handle workplace grievances and problems? No. For the most part, teachers use a system of stewards (fellow teachers) to “represent” other teachers as they go through the disciplinary process. When it comes to bargaining, teachers typically have a negotiations team that spends hours undergoing training from the state association to negotiate for themselves. To be fair, the state associations do provide some level of professional support, but far less than the huge dues would suggest.
For comparison, Goyette & Associates represents a large number of police, fire and general employee public employee associations. Each of these associations’ members gets professional representation at the earliest stages of discipline and we are actively working with each group on their contract issues and negotiations. Even the public safety unit with the highest rate of usage pays only 60-70% of what teachers pay in union dues.
Surely, the political arm of the state and national teacher associations must justify the huge dues? Die-hard members may make this argument, but the reality is that only a small portion of union dues actually get to political campaigns. Most dues goes to the huge administrative overhead of these massive organizations. Certainly, California teachers’ unions have a big voice in state politics, but that does not clinch the argument that teachers ought to pay such high fees for that voice. In the alternative framework below, a local teachers association can use the money currently earmarked for the state and national groups and use most of it for local politics, or send it to the big unions for politics – but by choice.
There is another way of doing this.
A local California teachers association with 800 members currently brings in about $800,000 in dues. Of that, almost $700,000 goes to their state and national associations. The other $100,000 is used by the local association to cover meeting expense, a small local office and maybe staff, and other costs. Usually, one of the biggest “discretional” expenses is travel and registration fee expenses to attend conferences and trainings put on by the state and federal associations.
What’s the alternative? Decertification…”fire” the big union.
What if instead of the budget picture painted above, the local association could keep that $700,000 in dues each year? The local association would still keep its rights to collectively bargain a contract with the school district, but it would have the freedom to decide how much and to whom ALL of its membership dues were spent.
An “independent” teachers association with these 800 teachers could take the $700,000 and do a lot of things…this is just one possibility: 1) Use $240,000 and hire a law firm to provide the teacher members with professional representation at every step of the disciplinary process and to hire a professional labor negotiator; 2) Return $200,000 to the members ($200/year); 3) Set aside the other $260,000 for a combination of public relations, local politics and state/national politics. For the politics/PR piece, think about the impact this teachers association would have in a local school board election (the group that approves their contract) if they spent even a portion of that $260,000 on a local election. Also, if the membership felt strongly about the political actions of the state and/or national associations that they formerly belonged to, they could simply send them a check for whatever amount they wanted to support their activities – I doubt that the money would not be accepted.
But Decertification has to be nearly impossible to accomplish? Not true. The process is actually simple and straightforward, though there are some critical timelines that must be met and each step has to be properly taken. The reality is that there are decertifications taking place throughout California of big unions in all layers of public services. The biggest obstacle to teacher taking charge of their labor organizations and dues is their ignorance of the alternatives to the status quo.
The Sacramento Bee recently reported that a group, looking to abolish collective bargaining rights for all of California’s public sector employees, filed three ballot initiatives this week. The group is called the California Center for Public Policy and arrears to be led by a UC Santa Barbara economic lecturer named Lanny Ebenstein. Mr. Ebenstein’s group has started fundraising to begin a signature campaign to get the initiatives before the voters.
The three initiatives are focused on both public sector employees and retirees. The first measure would ban recognition of all public sector labor unions to prevent government from collectively bargaining with them. The second measure would impose a higher tax burden on pensions paid through CalPERS or CalSTERS for retirees who earn an annual pension of over $100,000.00 per year. The Third measure would raise the retirement age of state employees to 65 and, and public safety workers to age 58.
The most troubling aspect of the news was the initial reaction from representatives of public employee groups. Steve Maviglio, of a group called Californian’s for Retirement Security, responded by saying “these will end up in the same trash bin as the proposal to require Christmas music in public schools. These proposals are wildly out of synch with California; fortunately there is a $15 million dollar gap between dumb ideas and the ballot box.”
Let’s hope Mr. Maviglio’s comments are not shared by a majority of public sector employee organizations throughout the State. Californians and members of public sector employee organizations should take these measures very seriously. Many voters, especially those who work in the private sector would view positively some, if not all of the element s of the measures. Union recalcitrants, inflexibility and lack of creativity is exactly the posture that lead to the abolition of collective bargaining in other states, including Wisconsin. The public sector employee union can no longer used tried and true methods like strikes, picketing, or PR smear campaigns to meet their objectives. The world out there is much more complicated now and requires an entirely different and smarter approach. The public sector employee unions need to position themselves as partners with a solution and regain the trust and respect of the citizens of California. Mr. Ebenstein is quoted in the Sac BEE article by saying, “[g]overnment does not exist to provide compensation and pensions for government workers. Government exists to provide good public services at a reasonable cost.” A vast, vast majority of California voters would agree with this statement. Unions need to incorporate this message in their strategy and convince the public that the good public service Ebenstein references depends upon hiring and keeping skilled and motivated government workers. Remember, the California private sector employees out number public employees over 25 to 1 at the ballot box. California’s public sector employee organizations would be wise to take seriously the three initiatives filed by Mr. Ebenstien and similar ones that have already been filed or will be filed in the coming months.
If you would like more information from us, regarding how you can craft a message of cooperation and partnership, please contact Jennifer at the Firm.