Archives for category: Unions

Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court that would allow non-members to receive benefits without paying union dues, was recently interviewed for Campbell Brown’s website. She described how thrilled she is to be the name and face of the lawsuit to curb Union power. She explained that she was a union rep but no one listened to her. She opposes tenure. She wanted a classroom aide but the union got her a raise instead.


If her side prevails, she will get neither a raise nor a classroom aide.



Harold Meyerson, editor of the American Prospect, notes that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously when they last considered public sector unions. In the Abood case in 1977, they ruled that unions could not charge members to pay for their political activities, but that they could require members and non-members to pay for collective bargaining that improved their pay, working conditions, pensions, etc.  Even the conservative members of the High Court agreed that it was legal and fair to expect even non-members to contribute to the cost of labor unions that advocate for them.


What changed from 1977 to 2016? The Supreme Court now has judges appointed by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. That’s one thing but not the only difference.


Meyerson writes:


When the Court held oral arguments on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could overturn Abood, the five conservative justices made fairly clear that they were inclined to scrap their predecessors’ handiwork. Whatever faint hopes the labor movement had entertained that it might retain the support of Antonin Scalia, who’d upheld the judgment of Abood in previous opinions, were made fainter still by Scalia’s comments apparently embracing the argument that collective bargaining with government agencies is inherently political, thereby absolving non-members from having to pay any union dues at all.


What’s changed is the conservative justices’ assessment of unions—reflecting, I’d argue, the changed assessments of both business and Republican elites.
A look back at the opinions in Abood shows that the court was considering the same questions four decades ago that it is considering today. What’s changed is the conservative justices’ assessment of unions—reflecting, I’d argue, the changed assessments of both business and Republican elites.


What has changed is not just the composition of the Court, but the political climate. In today’s politics, unions do not command the political clout they had in 1977, and the Friedrichs case will reduce it even more.


Meyerson writes:


What’s changed since 1977, I suspect, is the regard in which conservatives now hold collective bargaining itself. In acknowledging that pure collective bargaining, if such a thing were even ascertainable, might justify fees from nonmembers, and simply by the act of concurring, Powell was bowing to the reality that collective bargaining was an established American institution that conservatives couldn’t frontally attack. Today, in the private sector, it’s a disestablished institution. Over the past 60 years, the rate of unionization in the private sector has fallen from roughly 40 percent to just 6.6 percent. In the public sector, it’s at 35 percent, but some key states that had long afforded collective-bargaining rights to public employees—most notably Wisconsin and Indiana—have effectively repealed them in recent years at the behest of Republican governors who are far more anti-union than Republican governors in the years when the Court ruled on Abood. Time was when not just the Rockefeller liberals but the Nixon centrists in the GOP chose not to attack unions (well, most unions); when Republican members of Congress from the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast had tens of thousands of union members in their districts, a number of whom voted Republican.


Meyerson sees the Friedrichs case as a double whammy, one that will diminish the power of the unions and the Democratic party. It will also weaken one of the key institutions that built the American middle class. If the unions get slammed by this case, income inequality and wealth inequality will only grow worse. And that’s bad not just for unions, but for our society.

The Friedrichs case before the U.S.Supreme Court will decide whether teachers can be “forced” to pay dues to unions that bargain on their behalf. The case is not about paying for unions’ political advocacy; no one has to. Those who don’t want to get a refund. The case is about paying for collective bargaining for salaries, pensions, and working conditions. If Friedrich wins, teachers can refuse to join or pay dues but enjoy the benefits that unions win. Those are called “free riders.” They hitch a ride without sharing the cost. They are also free-loaders.


Steven Singer wrote an apt fable about Friedrichs. He also includes some excellent cartoons.



The Chicago Sun-Times published an article with astonishing news. The Chicago Teachers Union gives money to groups that support public education, including the Network for Public Education.


NPE has used the contribution from CTU to give scholarships to parents, students, and educators to attend our annual national conferences, as well as to fund the development of a state-by-state report card that will be released on February 10, evaluating the states by their support for their public schools.


I pointed out to the reporter that CTU’s support for allies of public education must be seen in the context of billionaires who allot hundreds of millions of dollars every single year to privatize public education. It is not a fair fight, to be sure.


I wish the teachers’ unions and other civic-minded groups had many millions more to invest in pushing back against privatization, union busting, and high-stakes testing and fighting for early childhood education, equitable funding, smaller classes, and well-prepared teachers.

This week, the Supreme Court will hear a case called Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. The plaintiffs represent teachers who not want to pay union dues. They say that the requirement to pay dues violates their free speech rights. Friedrichs is backed by political, financial, and ideological groups who hope to cripple the last bastion of organized labor. If the plaintiffs win, labor’s resources and political clout will be severely reduced. This case will be a milestone in the survival or destruction of public sector unions.


In the article linked above, Richard Kahlenberg argues that diminishing the power of public sector unions diminishes our democracy. In our society, money buys political influence and voice. If labor’s voice is stilled, only the rich will have political power. There will be no organized countervailing voice to prevent them from controlling everything.


Friedrichs is a teacher who objects to paying dues to the CTA. However, she is not required to pay for political activities, because of an earlier Supreme Court decision called Abood.


The current legal framework in which courts weigh cases such as Friedrichs is narrowly constrained, balancing the free speech rights of dissenting union members against the state’s interests in promoting stable labor relations with its public employees.
In the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a sensible compromise that properly balanced these two sets of interests by splitting union dues into two categories: those that support political speech, and those that support bread–and-butter collective bargaining. Because the First Amendment’s free speech clause provides a right to not be compelled by the state to subsidize speech with which one disagrees, dissenting public employees cannot be required by the state to join a union, or to subsidize the union’s political and lobbying efforts to promote certain positions of public concern….


According to the counsel for Friedrichs, annual dues to the CTA amount to approximately $1,000 per teacher, of which nonmembers receive a refund of roughly $350 to $400 for expenses unrelated to collective bargaining. In other words, Friedrichs is happy to accept increases in wages and benefits the union negotiates hard to win, but does not want to pay the $600 to $650 per year that other members contribute in order to make those wage gains possible. Will she give back her raises, forgo health care benefits, give up the right to pursue grievances, and agree to teach larger classes that the union negotiated? The amicus brief of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors put it well: there is no “constitutional right to a free ride.”


Kahlenberg notes:


All unions—including, and perhaps especially, public sector unions—also contribute to one of the most important foundational interests of the state: democracy. And they do this in many different ways. Unions are critical civic organizations that serve as a check on government power. They are important players in promoting a strong middle class, upon which democracy depends. They serve as schools of democracy for workers. And teacher unions, in particular, help ensure that our educational system is sufficiently funded to teach children to become thoughtful and enlightened citizens in our self-governing democracy….


Strong unions helped build the middle class in America after the Great Depression, and continue to have a positive effect on ameliorating extreme inequalities of wealth. By bargaining for fair wages and benefits, unions in the public and private sector help foster broadly shared prosperity. Research finds, for example, that unions compress wage differences between management and labor. According to one study, “controlling for variation in human resource practices, unionized establishments have an average of 23.2 percentage point lower management-to-worker pay ratio relative to non-union workplaces.”


Kahlenberg documents that the decline in union membership parallels the decline in the middle class.  Extremes of wealth and poverty are not good for democracy.


This is an excellent overview of the potential damage that this Supreme Court decision might do to unions and to democracy. It occurs to me as I read it that the contentious battle over school choice, funded amply by billionaires, is intended to divert attention from crucial economic issues. Billionaires would have us believe that they are advancing the economic opportunities for black and Hispanic children even as they use their political clout to destroy the jobs and economic security of their families, as well as the economic prospects for the “scholars” in their charter schools.



Despite declining enrollments, despite the closing of 50 public schools, the Chicago Public Schools board (hand-picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) is seeking to expand the number of charter schools. The great advantage of charters, from the Mayor’s point of view, is that they are mostly non-union. So think of it as payback to the Chicago Teachers Union for its insistence on adequate resources for the public schools.


Despite declining student enrollment and dozens of dramatically under-enrolled schools, Chicago is seeking potential new charter schools for the city.



In a Request for Proposals issued Wednesday, CPS says it’s looking for dual language schools, “Next Generation” schools that would blend technology and traditional teaching, and—in a first—it wants a “trauma-informed school,” where staff would get training to support students with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or exposure to trauma.



The district is prepared to give charters that already run schools approval for up to four additional campuses. And it’s poised to grant approvals now for campuses that wouldn’t open for several years, to allow more time for planning a school’s opening, the district says in a press release.



In recent years, the district had named Neighborhood Advisory Councils where community members could give input into charter proposals. Those are now scrapped, saving roughly $170,000, CPS says. Instead, charter schools themselves will “directly engage residents in obtaining the support of their desired school community,” according to the release.

“It looks like they’re making it even less democratic,” said Wendy Katten, director of the parent group Raise Your Hand, which has had members serve on the advisory councils.



Katten says many considered the NACs “flawed” because CPS seemed frequently to ignore the advice of the councils, but “at least it was an opportunity to look at the proposal, to really scrutinize it as a community. To take (that) away—and to have the charter operators do the community engagement—that’s even more of a sham than what currently has existed. The real question is, our city needs a massive debate about opening any kind of new schools in a city that has just hemorrhaged students,” said Katten.



Bob Braun covered education for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey for fifty years. He retired from reporting, and now he writes one of the best blogs in the nation.


And this is one of his best. He explains that he supports teachers and he supports the teachers’ union, and no one pays him to do it (as critics charge). Those who hate public schools can’t believe that anyone would defend them unless they were paid to do so. Those who hate unions can’t believe that anyone would side with them unless they were paid to do so. They are wrong.


He writes:


I do support unionism. I grew up in a family–two families, really, but that’s a long story not appropriate here–that owed their middle-class status to unions. My father was a railroad engineer and a union member. My step-father was a teamster and a shop steward. They made good salaries that allowed them to buy decent homes and afford vacations–only on their salaries. I believe the inexcusable income inequality from which many suffer today is a direct result of the collapse of the union movement.


So, yes, I support unionism–for private and public employees, including teachers. Teacher unions have helped many urban residents achieve middle-class economic status and that translates into better lives for their children. I do not believe it is a coincidence that corporate reforms that have led to school closures, Teach for America, charter expansion, and other changes have come just at a time when many persons of color finally got good, secure jobs as teachers and other public employees. Yes, I do believe many so-called “reforms” are aimed at African-American school employees.


One deranged blogger–a suburban school board member from Lawrenceville–has called me a “loyal union lackey.” Recently, she quoted none other than a paid charter supporter from Montclair–and former spokesman for the disgraced Cami Anderson–in her continuing rants against me. I am an outsider, they say, because I live in Elizabeth, a city that abuts Newark and is a hell of lot more like Newark than either Montclair or Lawrenceville.


I have been accused of “working” for the union. Readers will note I have one advertiser, a neighborhood restaurant that is almost a second home to me. Both the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) have offered to buy advertising on this site. I have refused to accept those offers for the very reason suggested by the lying criticism of me–that I would express support for these organizations only because I was paid to do it. No, my friends, this blog doesn’t make any money–whether I have one reader or, as happened last spring with my coverage of Pearson’s spying on New Jersey students, 1.5 million. Bob Braun’s Ledger is brought to you primarily by my Social Security and well-earned pension checks.


People who are motivated by money can’t believe that anyone is different from themselves. Bob Braun is different. He writes what he believes, not because he is paid.



This statement was released by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in response to the news about the CTU strike vote, approved by 96% of voting members. FEE was founded by Jeb Bush; he stepped aside when he decided to run for the GOP nomination. Patricia Levesque was former Governor Bush’s closest associate. It is interesting that she refers to the children of Chicago as “our children.” The FEE–which strongly advocates for charters, vouchers, and virtual classes and schools– has never issued a statement about the lack of resources for the Chicago public schools, the lack of libraries, social services, or about overcrowded classrooms. Nor did it issue a statement when Mayor Emanuel closed 50 public schools in a single day, which surely hurt many children.






Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, the Chicago Teachers Union membership voted to authorize setting a strike date if demands are not met by the State Board of Education. Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, issued the following statement.



“The Chicago Teachers Union has used its political power to turn the city’s education system into a place where collectively bargained job protections, benefits and pensions are the priority, not the education of our children. It’s no wonder Chicago Public Schools is spiraling into insolvency.



“Rather than negotiate in good faith on permanent solutions, the union is desperately lashing out, blaming everyone else for a state of affairs it has been instrumental in creating. Under the guise of taking a stand for students, it is preparing for a strike that will abandon students in their classrooms.



“This union agenda punishes families and only will hasten the flight to charter schools, where parents can find better options and where thousands of children currently are on waiting lists. The question now becomes whether or not union leaders are interested in the education of children and the long-term survival of Chicago Public Schools, or whether they are interested in a self-serving agenda of maintaining power.”




For more information, visit

Just in: The members of the Chicago Teachers Union authorized a strike, if a deal cannot be negotiated with the Chicago Public School board, which is controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It is ironic that the state law was changed a few years ago, under pressure from Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children, to make it more difficult for Chicago teachers to strike. The law says that the union must win the approval of 75% of its members. Edelman boasted that CTU would never get 75% to vote for a strike. He was wrong. The CTU proved him wrong in 2012, when it went on strike after a near-unanimous vote. And this week it proved him wrong again. Edelman spent millions on the state’s best lobbyists to hobble the union. He lost; millions wasted that could have been spent putting nurses, teachers of the arts, and a certified librarian in every public school in Chicago.






Chicago Teachers Union Details on Strike Authorization Vote: 96.5% of Educators Say “Yes”


CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union released the following details regarding its recent strike authorization vote which was conducted over a three-day period December 9-11, 2015 in all schools where Chicago Teachers Union members are employed. The results indicate the following:


No. of Actual Votes: 22,678
No. of Eligible Voters: 24,752


Percentage of Members who Voted: 91.6 %
Percentage of Members who Voted ‘Yes’: 88%
No. of ‘Yes’ Votes: 21,782
Percentage of Members who Voted Yes: 96.05%


“Late last week Teachers, PSRPs, Clinicians—members of the CTU—voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The actual result was just over 96% of those voting marked ‘Yes’ with a 92% turnout. Rahm, Forrest Claypool—Listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs. In particular:


(1) Improve the teaching and learning conditions by reducing standardized testing, eliminate time-sucking compliance paperwork, and restore professional respect and autonomy to teachers on matters like grades. These improvements cost nothing;


(2) Staff our schools at an adequate level. We deserve reasonable class sizes, instruction in art, music, science and technology, a library with a librarian, a nurse;


(3) and, Help our schools and our communities address the social crisis in large swaths of our city. While we do not expect the schools to fix homelessness, broken immigration policy, crisis-level unemployment, and racism, we must address the undeniable fact that these problems spill over into our schools and devastate the lives of our children. We have modest demands to address these problems—allow our counselors to counsel, approve restorative justice programs in targeted schools, help with translation and bilingual services.


Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us. Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs.”

The results of the voting on a possible strike by the Chicago Teachers Union won’t be available until the beginning of the week.


Even if the CTU membership votes to strike, there will be a period of fact-finding. The earliest a strike would take place, if the members approve the strike, would be March.


Due to the lobbying of anti-union Stand for Children, a strike requires approval by at least 75% of the membership. Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children fought for that approval margin and predicted (wrongly) that the CTU would never get 75% to agree to strike. In 2012, the union vote for a strike was approved by 98% of members voting.


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