Special Report by Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
Education unions and public sector unions are facing legal attacks designed to destroy our ability to represent our members. Not surprisingly, these cases are supported by the usual anti-union law firms and wealthy backers. What follows is a snapshot of the cases CFT and other unions are now fighting.
“Who needs unions?”
California Teachers Association
This lawsuit, brought by a group of teachers represented by the CTA who claim that being required to pay fair share agency fee violates their First Amendment rights. This case follows on the U.S. Supreme Court decision Harris v. Quinn that ended agency fee for Illinois home healthcare workers.
At the time of that decision, conservative Justice Alito indicated he would be sympathetic to a more sweeping decision ending fair share for all public sector unions. Observers expect the Court to hear oral arguments in December or January with the Court’s decision to follow several months later.
The implications of ending agency fee would be far reaching. While a complete elimination of agency fee is unlikely, the Supreme Court could make it more difficult to collect agency fee payments, which would have a serious financial impact on unions, weakening our ability to advocate for our members and be engaged in politics.
The forces behind this lawsuit know that a successful attack on public sector unions will weaken the labor movement and open the door even wider for corporate America to shape economic and social policy. Public sector unions, including the CFT and AFT, have launched member engagement campaigns in anticipation of a negative ruling. These efforts aim to involve members more fully with their unions and move agency fee payers to full membership.
“Students Don’t Matter”
Vergara v. State
This case was initiated by Students Matter, an organization founded by wealthy Silicon Valley charter school investor David Welch. Nine students, Beatriz Vergara and eight others, claimed their constitutional rights were being violated because school districts used seniority (hire date) rather than teacher effectiveness to determine the order in which teachers were laid off. The suit also claims that teacher “tenure” made it impossible to fire underperforming teachers.
California Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in favor of the claimants and that five provisions of the California Education Code were in violation of the state constitution. That decision is being appealed by the State of California.
Lawyers for education unions and the state argued there is no evidence that shows seniority and “tenure” statutes violate student civil rights. Further, those statutes protect teachers’ ability to teach free of coercion and favoritism. Educators maintain that using test scores to evaluate teachers and as the basis for layoffs — possible outcomes of the suit — would further institutionalize the testing fixation that has so damaged public education.
“Test scores define teachers”
In an extension of the their efforts in Vergara, Students Matter and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are suing 13 California school districts, contending these districts have failed to comply with the Stull Act because student test scores are not used in the evaluation of teachers. While a 1999 law amended the 1971 Stull Act to broadly include the use of test scores, the advocates for education unions contend districts were given latitude to negotiate language relevant to their needs.
April Bain, a fair share agency fee payer, initiated this lawsuit with the legal support of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm involved in Vergara and Doe. Bain and a handful of other teachers contend they should have full membership rights even while paying the lower agency fee rate.
They disagree with their union’s views on political and legislative issues and don’t contribute to their union’s political work. They also claim that benefits reserved by the union exclusively for members should be theirs without having to belong to the union.
On September 30, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson dismissed the Bain lawsuit — as has every court that has previously considered such claims.
“Are you “all in”? The benefits of full membership
As the exclusive representative for the employees in your bargaining unit, your AFT local union incurs significant costs representing you. Your local union has negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that provides that every employee in the bargaining unit, as a condition of continued employment, joins the local union or pays the local union a service fee. The service fee is called union fair share, or agency fee, and covers only the cost of contract negotiation.
But we can do more for each other and for public education if we all pull together. The CFT encourages and invites all agency fee payers to become full members of the Federation. Members of the union have a voice and vote in all the activities of the union, most importantly, in the approval of the collective bargaining agreement. The union also offers its members real-world services such as discounted retail products and services, group life insurance plans, and worker-friendly mortgages.
>If you are an agency fee payer, sign up now to become a full member of the union. Contact your AFT local union or call the CFT Bay Area office at 510-523-5238 to obtain a membership form.