Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Thoughts on Friedrichs

I am not going to explain all the nuances in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, because frankly, I don't know them all myself. What I do know is that a group of ten teachers in California is arguing before the Supreme Court that they should not have to pay any union dues at all, even though they benefit from collective bargaining. Their rationale is that because public unions negotiate with the government, they are inherently political organizations, and therefore impinge on the free speech of members who don't agree with them.

I'm not a lawyer, because if I was I'd have a better car, but I see a lot of flaws in this argument. For example, one would have to say that political campaigns are inherently political, as well, yet this same Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that it was perfectly OK for billionaires to spend as much as they want to elect officials who will do their bidding. This effectively drowns out the free speech of people like myself, who don't have the funds to compete with the Koch brothers. So it appears that the Roberts' court believes the First Amendment is absolute, as long as you have lots and lots of cash, or you are a puppet of those who do, like the teachers in the Friedrichs case.

The teachers in Friedrichs are arguing that since the union is political and represents them, they shouldn't have to pay anything because they disagree with their union's politics. This seems like a perfect argument as to why the Supreme Court should strike down the income tax. Obviously, everything the government does is inherently political. I pay plenty of taxes to reap the benefits of this society, but I totally disagree with a lot of the things that the government does. Why should I pay for the illegal wars of the Bush family, or for a ridiculously large military when I am a pacifist? Taxes are the price I pay to be a part of this greater Union of the United States, but if Friedrichs prevails, why should anyone pay?

You might argue that I am free to leave the country, or to vote in new leaders who better represent my views. But that's exactly what the teachers in the Friedrichs case could do, as well. If you don't want to teach in a unionized school, don't do it. Leave. Go teach in a private or parochial school. Half the states are "right to work" states where there are no unions (and lower pay and fewer benefits). And as for voting, union members can vote in new leaders who better represent their own views if they choose to. None of their rights will be abridged.

Now to some practical matters. What happens when teachers are allowed to opt out of union dues? Exactly what contract will they be bound by? Will they be entitled to the same pay and benefits of those of us who pay our dues? By what authority? And what happens when their contractual rights are violated? Will the union be forced to defend people who aren't supporting the union?

Will non-members be allowed to "buy-in" to the union when they need it--like when a rogue principal or AP goes after them? That would be akin to allowing someone to buy health care after they get sick, while the rest of us pay in sickness and in health.

I've been a pretty harsh critic of the UFT at times, but I know that without them, I would likely be unemployed rather than retired in relative comfort. I was targeted by one the worst, and frankly stupidest, principals I have ever met because of my union activities. I testified against him at a fellow teacher's 3020a hearing. Had it not been for my union, I'd have been fired on the spot. Now that I am collecting my pension, my dues seem like a pretty good investment.

Of course, the teachers in the Friedrichs case think they are the best teachers ever, so nothing like that could ever happen to them. They are so wonderful that they don't need a union. They will just burst into the DOE, and by virtue of their glowing excellence, demand better pay and working conditions than the union could ever get them. And the DOE will give them what they want, because they are such outstandingly wonderful educators that one day they will vanish in flash of light and end up teaching Danielson high atop a mountain in the Himalayas.

If Friedrichs prevails, I am hoping that every teacher gives the ruling a big middle finger and continues to pay dues. But what of those who decide they'd rather keep the ten Bennies a year rather then support their fellows?

If it were me, I would not even talk to such a person. They are the moral equivalent of scabs, and should be treated as such. If they leave us to pay dues while they take a free ride, why should we help them out in the least? I wouldn't share a lesson plan, a crumbling piece of chalk, or even a glance with such a person.

That should be the UFT's position should Friedrichs come to pass. You're either a dues payer, or you aren't. If you are, you're entitled to everything the union has to offer. If not, you're on your own.


Anonymous said...

It's good having you back again blogging your profound insight to this critical issue that will affect all unions across our country.

I, too, am a retired teacher and I'm very grateful for paying dues which has enabled me to live a comfortable life. Unfortunately, the leadership has fractured the relationship between them and the rank and file(r&f) by kowtowing to so many ed reformers and faux democrats. The r&f, a large number of members, are angry and disappointed with the leadership. Yet these same members had a chance to vote in a new leadership in May 2013 and chose not to vote in the hopes that a non-vote would send a strong message to the leadership, which it didn't. The non-vote did not faze the leadership because the retirees voted the status quo leadership into office which the same leadership in turn adopted the Common Core with a threat of a punch in the teachers' face, the Danielson's 22 components (NOT one of the officers at 52 Bway would be able to meet), their stance to sit-by and not endorse Teachout where Cuomo wins the gubernatorial election so he can break up the monopoly, the negotiation a 9 year contract that divided the members into have and have-nots regarding retros and the ATRs' rights for due process is questionable and finally thanking the heavy-heart for passing the budget with all the devil's detail in it that ensures the teacher evaluation is based on 50% of students' scores and the gosh-awful, setting-up schools to fail receivership program. You would have to wonder how emotionally and professionally detached is the leadership when they make decisions not in the members' interest.

With all those problems that many members in the r&f have encountered and the lack of leadership support, I can understand why they might not want to pay union dues. Is it a form of getting back at the leadership for not supporting the teachers in struggling schools, for their lack of fighting harder to ensure that abusive principals are removed, and for not supporting Teachout or Hawkins in the 2014 election? We will have to see if the members will not hold a bitter grudge against the leadership because unionism is not the leadership, per se, but the members, the r&f, who believe in it, uphold it and enforce it through union elections.

As stated before, I'm very happy to have paid my dues because it is an "investment" in my guaranteed future for retirement. However, how will the union, the leadership, deal with the r&f's acrimony towards the leadership's apathy in not fulfilling their elected responsibilities of working for the members' interest in every aspect.

All I can say it's going to be very, very interesting if the SCOTUS sides with Friedrichs. However, if Friedrichs does lose (I hope they do), then the r&f can send a powerful, union-altering message to the UFT leadership by VOTING THEM OUT OF OFFICE IN MAY 2016 and bring back democracy and transparency to a new union administration of leadership.

Mr. Talk said...

I understand the frustration of many of the rank and file, especially ATRs. However, I think if anyone withholds dues, they are merely cutting off their nose to spite their face. Weakening the union won't help anyone, including ATRs.

I wholeheartedly agree that a change in leadership is needed, no matter what the outcome of Friedrich. Unity has created too many teachers who feel left out of the process or hopeless in the face of administrative mandates.

As a recently retired member, I'm not sure whether I will vote in the upcoming election. Honestly, I don't think retirees should vote on matters that will affect working teachers. However, since most retirees vote Unity, I may cast mine for MORE to help even the score.

ed notes online said...

Good to have you back. I agree with most of what you say. I do believe we have to use Friedrichs as a wedge to make demands on Unity for constitutional change that ends their winner take all system and lowers the impact of retirees. We can't just give an absolute dictatorship unlimited support.
The UFT elections are stacked against any opposition winning much of anything. Winner take all assures all 750 delegates are Unity and get to go to NYSUT and AFT conventions and support their view of national education policy with nary a voice of dissent.

Juliet Marinelli said...

I'd like to ask a question. Since Unity has ben so egregiously corrupt and deaf to "us reg'lar teachers", if Friedrichs were to come to pass, could we form a NEW union, with MORE as its core?

Anonymous said...

To Juliet,
That's a great question one that should be answered by Norm. I for one would be the first one to jump on having MORE as the NEW union especially since I'm planning to vote for them in May 2016. I'm a retired teacher and will not cast or ever cast my vote for Unity. It is time for all retirees to do the same and vote with their conscience and not for the free bagels and noshes that the leadership gives them.

I truly feel that the union constitution should be changed to exclude retirees from voting for in-service matters.

Mr. Talk said...

Juliet, this case is not at all about who will represent us, but about whether they will be allowed to collect dues. So even if we lose Friedrichs, the UFT would still be representing us, and the UFT is dominated by the Unity Caucus.

If a lot of members decide to bail, it would greatly weaken our union. That would not be a good thing, even with Unity running the show.

The best way to effect change is to become active at your school and work on changing the minds of those who blindly vote for Unity every year. Many people at my school, for example, really didn't understand even what caucuses were, because Unity doesn't bother to educate members about the election process. So start there, and educate. If enough people vote for MORE, change will come.

Bronx ATR said...

The new teachers, that the union seems to marginally cater to, are the very members who will withhold dues. They plan on getting out as soon as possible, so don't care about any of the ethical issues involved. The vast majority don't vote in union elections, don't know or care about the caucuses and don't know or care about candidates. They do care about $1200 and healthcare. Once they figure out their dues don't pay it, the floodgates will open. As for ATRs and experienced teachers, they are disgusted - but many will continue to pay dues - no matter what entity controls it.

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