CA Unions to Get more Special Privileges


California union officials are running scared about the possible outcome of the Janus case, but leave it to them to seek more power via the legislature. If you can’t get people to do what you want, just twist the arms of the legislature.  Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, claims many agency fee payors believe they are actual union members, a laughable notion.  If someone is taking money out of your pay check, you are certain to know what it’s going to.  John Fensterwald has the story in

The governor and Democratic leaders in the Legislature agreed to include language in the 2017-18 state budget that will require school districts, cities and other government agencies to give their employee unions regular opportunities to meet and sign up new workers.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature is expected to pass the language, which is included in Senate Bill 204 and Assembly Bill 119, two of the budget “trailer” bills, on Thursday (see Section 2, starting 3555). It would require government agencies to negotiate the details of when, where and how unions could have access to recruit new employees; and to provide job titles and contact information for all employees at least every 120 days.

Public unions see the new requirement as one strategy they’ll need to stave off a decline in members if, as anticipated, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that public workers don’t have to pay the unions’ cost of negotiating contracts on employees’ behalf and representing them on issues related to working conditions, wages and benefits.

Now, a similar case out of Illinois, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, which could decide to hear it as early as next fall. Unions are all but resigned that President Donald Trump’s first appointee to the court, Neil Gorsuch, will be the fifth vote to reverse the court’s earlier decision allowing agency fees. In that 1977 ruling, the court said agency fees were permissible in order to avoid “free riders” – union members who benefit from contracts without sharing the costs of negotiating them.

The impact of switching to a system in which dues are totally voluntary instead of automatically collected could be a big hit on unions’ finances and political clout, with predictions of a loss in dues ranging from 20 to 40 percent.

Currently, about 10 percent of California teachers opt out of paying the CTA’s full membership dues, approximately $1,000 per year. Instead, they pay only the mandatory agency fees, about $600 per year. They don’t pay the cost of union politicking – supporting candidates and lobbying for issues – and they don’t get some benefits that come with membership.

If agency fees become voluntary with a ruling in Janus, “our world will change dramatically; having time to talk about what we do, who we are, why we are stronger if folks agree to be members will become doubly important,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “Anything to mitigate a loss of membership would be helpful.” The CFT, the smaller of two statewide teachers unions, represents about 120,000 teachers and college faculty and staff.

With school districts and other public agencies opposing the bill as too prescriptive and potentially costly, the Brown administration negotiated a compromise. The Department of Finance calls it “practical middle ground,” providing “meaningful access” while recognizing public agencies vary in size and operation. It leaves it up to unions and employers to negotiate basic details, such as orientation frequency, form, location and whether there will be in-person meetings for unions. If negotiations fail, unions can immediately seek binding arbitration on this issue, a process that  districts say generally favors unions.

Zazueta and Dennis Meyers, assistant executive director for government relations for the California School Boards Association, listed concerns about the agreement, including the potential costs of binding arbitration, in a June 14 letter to Brown and legislators. It calls for eliminating the 10-day advance orientation notification and protecting employers from liability from employees who don’t show up for orientation meetings.

But Pechthalt complained that the new agreement creates a lot of “wiggle room” for employers to stall negotiating access to workers, particularly in places where unions are not strong.

Although overall only 11 percent of employees represented by the California Federation of Teachers pay agency fees instead of full union dues, he projects that as many as 30 to 40 percent of adjunct community college teachers – underpaid “freeway fliers” who teach at multiple campuses – might stop paying anything to the union if a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME eliminates mandatory fees. And some who currently pay only agency fees assume they’re union members when they’re not – which is why outreach is critical, he said.