Union Independence, A Better Model
Adopting a model of union independence allows you to control your own destiny, respond to issues as they arise in an expeditious manner, retain attorneys and labor professionals to provide representation and negotiations and most importantly greatly reduce your dues, giving yourself a raise.
As an independent labor association you operate under your own by-laws which can be expeditiously amended by your membership as needed. It is imperative that your organization is fluid to respond to the ever changing landscape of public employee labor relations. You decide when and how to spend your money politically, influencing the politics that have a direct effect on the terms and conditions of your employment.
Attorneys and labor professionals negotiate and enforce labor agreements, meet and confer the employer regarding the terms and conditions of your employment and provide representation during the discipline process through retainer agreements at a rate significantly less than union dues paid to a state-wide union that simply provides shop steward training to your peers.
This model has been proven to be a great value that has been effectively employed by hundreds of police, fire and miscellaneous employee associations.
As an independent association you control your own destiny and have the ability to expeditiously respond to employment issues as they arise and retain attorneys and labor professionals to provide representation versus the shop steward model.
Does CTA Have More Clout at the Bargaining Table?
Labor relations in California is very structured with Collective Bargaining Laws in place for all public employees. Collective bargaining for schools K-12 and community colleges is known as the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA) and is contained in the Government Code under Sections 3540-3549.3. All recognized bargaining units in California have the right to meet and confer over terms, hours, wages and conditions of employment. The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) maintains jurisdiction over this legal process. Therefore, the salient question is what does CTA bring to either the bargaining table or political action with our representative School Board that is unique or special?
CTA can provide a negotiator to assist the negotiations team generally made up of subject matter experts, the teachers, and canhelp guide the negotiations process. Likewise, most other public sector unions or associations are represented by professionals at the table who work with their respective subject matter experts (the employees represented). CTA does not have a special stable of negotiators who are the only people that can lead the negotiations team during contract negotiations.
Frankly, if one were to read the Collective Bargaining laws for the different groups of employees in California one would be surprised as to how similar they are. The critical skill needed by the negotiator is the ability to work with the negotiations team to accomplish their local needs. There is not a one size fits all template that can be applied to all school districts any more than it could be applied across the board to all police departments or fire departments. Critical, is experience in the negotiations area and the skill to understand the law and specifically the needs of the local association or union.
Local control is the watchword when it comes to negotiations. What best meets the needs of this group of teachers, rather than the boilerplate that is being put in place everywhere else. The tailoring of the negotiations process to the needs of the local union/association is time consuming, deliberative, and demands individual focus. This is not the time to be buttonholed into some overreaching scheme or approaches that will not work with your board.
Political action with your respective Board of Education is critical to your success. Your local Board of Education sets policy relative to administration and your wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment. Therefore, as stakeholders in the district, once again a local focus is needed. The time spent educating your respective board about the needs of your fellow teachers is paramount. There is not some statewide script that the Board will read that will make them sympathetic to your individual needs. Just the opposite, the law firms that represent the Districts provide them with training in all facets of labor relations and often that training seems somewhat anti-employee. Under the proper guidance of a labor relations professional working with the local union/association, the employee organization works to develop a relationship where they can educate the Board relative to the needs of the teachers in the district. While we compare our wages and benefits with other professionals in other districts, the hard core reality is that we must have a majority vote of “our” board to enhance our prospects and protect our jobs and benefits.
This is not about the appearance of statewide muscle but about the effort that is done locally to develop relationships with the policy makers that affect us. This is not about money flowing to legislative or congressional campaigns relative to educational policy or to pad the lifestyles of big union leaders. It is about relationships that educate our local policy makers to support our local needs. The California police and fire associations have found that local focus and local control has propelled them into the highest paid professionals in the public sector. Collectively, police officers pay less than $10 per person per month to their statewide organization yet have the best retirement system, highest wages and benefits of public employees associations in the State. There is a local control and direction model that will work for the teachers associations. Let’s learn something from our public safety sector.
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.