Blogs > Cliopatria > Fair Share

Mar 22, 2005 10:23 am

Fair Share

I'm happy to report that the Pasadena City College chapter of the California Teachers Association has, at long last, made the brave move to impose the "fair share service fee" on all of our full-time faculty.  Our union engages in collective bargaining with the district, and is the sole representative of faculty interests during that process.  For years and years, membership in our local CTA chapter has been optional.  About half of the current faculty (including myself) are members, but about half choose to get a "free ride" by enjoying the benefits CTA negotiates without paying dues to the union.  (Dues are steep, mind you: I pay a base of about $850 annually, and I also add in a bit extra for our local political action committee.)

Since 2001, California law has permitted public employee unions to collect fees from non-members.  The principle is simple -- no full-time teacher ought to receive for free the benefits that his or her colleagues have paid to negotiate.  Membership in the union itself, of course, is voluntary -- and those who will now have the fair share fee automatically deducted from their paychecks will not be obligated to participate in union activities. 

I confess I have mixed feelings about forcing some of my virulently anti-union colleagues into paying for union activities.  (Yes, Virginia, there are tenured faculty members who loathe the very idea of employee unions.  Some of them are even my friends.)   I have to confess that when union membership was voluntary, I took a small amount of pleasure in gently reminding the non-payers in the department that my voluntary dues were subsidizing their benefits!  Now, I expect to hear their outrage.

Ultimately,of course, I support fair share implementation.  Like it or not, faculty are laborers.  Though our individual relationships with college administrators may be warm and cordial, we cannot forget that under the rules of collective bargaining, they are the management whose primary charge is to lower costs (which means limiting salaries and benefits.)  In this (admittedly civil and friendly) adversarial atmosphere, faculty ought to stand together.  Those who don't like collective bargaining don't have to give a minute of their time to the process -- but they don't have the right to reap the benefits without having paid for them.

The good news for those of us who have been paying dues is that once fair share is implemented, our monthly deductions will decline (slightly), as we will no longer need to cover the hundreds of faculty who have so far refused to stand with us.

I'm curious to know how many other teachers out there belong to "fair share" collective bargaining units.  How many other states permit this practice?

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More Comments:

Dennis R. Nolan - 3/24/2005

To Jim Williams: the notion that the faculty "need" a "unified voice" because the legislature won't give you as much money as you'd like is exactly the sort of question-begging I mentioned. Reasonable people can differ on such matters. Some may prefer lower taxes to more government expenditures; some may believe that additional money for a particular institution would not be well spent. No one should be forced to support another's viewpoint. I worry whenever anyone tells me that only one opinion is acceptable, and that is exactly what "unified voice" signifies. All those who CHOOSE to join an advocacy organization are free to do so. Those who choose NOT to do so should have the same freedom. In this regard, a union is no different from any other private interest group.

To both Jim and David: unions normally can't use membership dues for actual cash contributions to candidates, but (1) virtually every union uses compulsory dues income to provide non-cash contributions such as the time of paid staff, office facilities, propaganda, and so on; (2) many also use compulsory dues income for supposedly neutral political efforts like get-out-the-vote campaigns that are carefully designed to benefit only one side; and (3) public sector unions routinely use compulsory dues income to lobby for legislation. Each of those activities infringes on the freedom of dissenters.

John H. Lederer - 3/23/2005

Memorably, several years ago the NRA reported that it spent zero money on politics.

Memorably, the NEA fiercely lobbied and delayed by litigation a requirment that unions accurately report their expenditures.

David Lion Salmanson - 3/23/2005

As Williams points out and Hugo implied, it is illegal for Unions to use membership dues to support political candidates, that's what Union PACs are for. The blurry area is issue advocacy which, as Williams pointed out, is basically a necessity for immediate interests but has the potential for abuse.

Hugo Schwyzer - 3/23/2005

Well, the money also goes to the state chapter, as well as the National Education Association. Only a small portion ends up with the local.

Jim Williams - 3/23/2005

As a conservative, I understand these sentiments. However, at least in New York State, public university faculty desperately need a unified voice to advocate not only their welfare but the welfare of the chronically underfunded SUNY system (which is banned by law from lobbying for itself). That we work together gives us much more leverage with the legislature and the governor. That we are an affiliate of NYS's major teacher's union NYSUT is also positive.

However, in NYS we have a really perverse weakness which has resulted in substandard salaries for much of SUNY faculty - the Taylor law forbids public employees to strike. Thus, the state unilaterally disarmed us from being able to puruse more equitable salary scales. All we can do is scream and try to embarrass the governor into settling contracts. We have no great leverage to do so,and as a result, salaries are pretty low and salary compression/inversion a major problem.

While the union publications are decidedly left of center, the union uses no money for campaign contributions unless it is donated to our political action fund. Despite blanching at the thought of my dollars supporting John Kerry, I do contribute. In the state legislature, money talks, and NYSUT speaks loudly.

Our union, however, has a sliding fee schedule based on 1% of faculty salaries. Perhaps 5% of us would pay $850 or more.

Dennis R. Nolan - 3/23/2005

Why would you be happy that anyone is forced to support a private organization in order to retain a job? Simply asserting that a union provides benefits to all employees is no answer: it begs the critical question, on which reasonable people can differ, of whether collective bargaining is the best way to allocate government resources. I may believe that some social organization, political party, or church does great things for the community, but should I be able to force you to pay money to my preferred cause? Even a majority vote shouldn't trump your freedom to decide for yourself.

The problem is particularly acute in public sector unionism because those unions are, by necessity, intensely political organizations. Campaign funding laws aside, they simply must support political candidates and causes. That means that the "forced riders" are compelled to finance people and issues they may abhor. That doesn't strike me as very "progressive." Far better to allow individuals, particularly intelligent faculty members, to decide for themselves whether a union is worthy of their contributions.

John H. Lederer - 3/22/2005

Offhand it seems to me that $850 a year per member is rather large to cover the "costs of negotiating".

Does the $850 go to anything else?

Jason Nelson - 3/22/2005

do not believe that all members of any union should be forced to pay dues. While you say they are getting a "free ride", what about all the money that the union spends in pursuit of its political agenda. I took a look at the web site, and if you are a union member who supports the governor, your money will be put to work in opposition with his plans for the state.

Why in America should your choice of profession also condemn you to being forced, coerced, into financially supporting political causes and viewpoints that you do not believe in? This is the danger of collectivism.

It seems to me that the undesirability of so-called free riding is not out weighed by the undesirability of this political coercion.

Hugo Schwyzer - 3/22/2005

Apparently, there is something in the California Ed code about religious objector status. Problem is, I don't know what religion (Jehovah's Witnesses?) have a problem with joining unions. Heck, Mennonites usually have a problem with everything (the draft, jury service), but have no problem with unions...

Jonathan Dresner - 3/22/2005

What religious grounds are there for opting out of a union? I honestly have no idea what that would entail.

In Hawai'i, dues are mandatory, though membership is optional. The main benefit is a steady supply of scrap paper from the NEA, malpractice insurance, plus the ability to vote in union elections.

Hugo Schwyzer - 3/22/2005

I just checked, and we at PCC do allow an opt-out -- but only on religious grounds.

Gabriel H Rossman - 3/22/2005

The University of Toronto charges union dues but allows anti-union faculty to opt out by redirecting their union dues to charity. This seems to be a fair and elegant way of preventing free-riding while preserving freedom of association. I'm not sure whether the source of this policy is Canadian law, Ontario law, university policy, or union policy.