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SCOTUS Case Could Deal Blow to Unions

What AFT members need to know about the ‘Friedrichs’ case

A union member in this time of constant attacks on working families could understandably be excused for feeling battle weary. Every election, we are told, is the most important election, and every fight is the biggest fight against the longest odds. It is hard to cut through the hype and identify the real threats.

It’s important, though, to be aware of a U.S. Supreme Court case that may present us with a national challenge and a tremendous opportunity.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of educators backed by a right-wing pressure group filed a lawsuit that has made its way to the highest court in America. It asks the court to decide whether public sector unions may continue to charge nonmembers a fee equal to the cost of representing them to their employer.

This fee is called “agency fee” or “fair share.” In states where there is no fair share, the union must sign up everyone as a member—not merely a fair share payer—to keep the union strong.

If the court rules against us, then our work to support working families and reclaim the promise of public services will become harder. But if we are prepared, our efforts will become stronger.

Here’s what AFT President Randi Weingarten has to say about the importance of member mobilization.

“Our job—on top of all our other jobs—is to connect with other members,” Weingarten told members at the PSRP conference last month in Washington, D.C. “We have to go back to making this a movement, like 100 years ago when people had no power.”

Why is union power so important? Here is the main reason: our students, our patients and the public we serve. More union power brings more resources for public services—better opportunities for students, safer hospitals and other public facilities, and the best infrastructure available to help our nation thrive in a global economy. Public sector employees want these things for their students, their patients and the public, and a powerful union helps get them. When unions are strong, income inequality lessens and we have a larger and more vibrant middle class.

What’s behind the case
To appreciate what Friedrichs is about, it is important to understand how collective bargaining works in our country.

Let’s say public sector workers in a given workplace decide they want to form a union. Once they choose union representation, the union becomes their exclusive representative. In other words, the union is the only organization permitted to represent their interests to their employer. What’s more, the union is required by law to represent their interests. This is true even if a worker chooses not to join the union and pay union dues.

The First Amendment gives all of us the right to join or not join any group we want. It is easy to see how this could present a challenge for the union; it has the legal obligation to represent all workers in the workplace, whether or not they join.

To deal with this problem, unions developed the concept of agency fee, also known as fair share—because it’s only fair that employees who reap the benefits of a good union contract pay their fair share of the cost of negotiating that contract. Workers in a unionized workplace who don’t want to join the union may be required to reimburse the union for that cost.

The agency fee equals the amount of money needed to represent a member in collective bargaining. Other expenses, such as costs for political activity, are not charged to fair share payers—in other words, these nonmembers only pay for bargaining and administering a contract that covers their wages, hours and working conditions.

Depending on how a particular union operates, the cost of representation for each agency fee payer may range from a small fraction of the membership cost to almost as much as membership.

In the 1970s, a group of teachers in Detroit who did not want to join the Detroit Federation of Teachers or pay the agency fee brought a lawsuit,Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. They argued that having to pay the fee violated their First Amendment right to associate with whoever they wanted to. The Supreme Court upheld the agency fee, saying it did not violate the First Amendment.

Abood has remained the law of the land since 1977. However, over the past few years, the Supreme Court has decided two cases calling that law into question.

In 2012, the court held in Knox v. SEIU that the First Amendment does not permit a public sector union to impose a special assessment unless a worker opts in. Two years later, in Harris v. Quinn, the court said the First Amendment prohibits the collection of agency fees from home healthcare providers, whom the court determined to be “partial” or “quasi” public employees, not full-fledged public employees like those inAbood.

Now there’s the Friedrichs case. The court will choose what it decides on, but it is being asked to answer two questions: (1) whether public sector agency fee arrangements should be invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require public employees to opt out of paying full dues (as they must do now) rather than having to opt in, which would force unions to sign up members over and over again every year.

At the end of the day, what this really means is yet another attack by those who do not share our vision for worker rights, a strong middle class and the American dream.

Reclaiming the promise
Friedrichs represents a real threat to workers, so we have two choices: We can agonize or we can organize. The AFT already is rising to this challenge, operating as if the justices will issue an unfavorable decision. Many of our members are working hard to sign up and activate members, especially by bringing nonmembers and agency fee payers on board as members.

The AFT is a union of professionals, a union of solutions and a union of action. AFT members are talking the talk and walking the walk, championing fairness, democracy and economic opportunity for all. This is what reclaiming the promise is all about. We and our community partners are in this fight together. We can win complete membership in our local unions. And when we do, we’ll come out stronger.

[Sam Lieberman, Tim Shea, Robert Morgenstern]

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

New York Times Article on Students Opting Out of Tests

Article is copied below; for full article and graphics, click here.

BOICEVILLE, N.Y. — It started with a speech in the fall, to parents who had gathered in the auditorium to learn what to expect during the nascent school year.

“I spoke at the open house and said, ‘We hope you’ll opt out of the tests,’” said Heather Roberts, vice president of the Bennett Intermediate School parent teacher association. Last year, 92 percent of eligible students in this district, the Onteora, took their standardized English tests. “Jaws dropped.”

Soon there were forums, T-shirts with snappy slogans and fliers translated into Spanish. During pickups and play dates, in classrooms and at lunch, parents and students would ask one another: “Are you opting out?”

By the first day of testing in April, two of every three students in the district who were expected to take the exams were refusing to lift their pencils.

Across New York State, a small if vocal movement urging a rejection of standardized exams took off this year, maturing from scattered displays of disobedience into a widespread rebuke of state testing policies.

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Heather Roberts, vice president of the parent teacher association for Bennett Intermediate School in the Onteora district, with her sons Axel, left, and Nash. “I spoke at the open house and said, ‘We hope you’ll opt out of the tests,’” she said. “Jaws dropped.”CreditEmma Tannenbaum for The New York Times

At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement already has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.

Those same legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. The high numbers will also push state and federal officials to make an uncomfortable decision: whether to use their power to financially punish districts with low participation rates.

“We’ve written letters to legislators for years, until we were blue in the face, and they didn’t listen,” said Eric Mihelbergel, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, a test-refusal group. “But they’re listening now, now that we’re opting our kids out.”

At the same time, some education officials and advocacy groups fear, the opt-out movement will reverse a long-term effort to identify teachers and schools — and students — who are not up to par, at least as far as their test performance goes. Of particular concern is that without reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift through schools that fail them, without consequences.

This month, a dozen civil rights groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a statement saying they were opposed to “anti-testing efforts” because tests provide data that is crucial for catching and combating inequities in public schools.

“When parents ‘opt out’ of tests — even when out of protest for legitimate concerns — they’re not only making a choice for their own child, they’re inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” the statement said.

In New York State, the movement swelled to its current numbers from virtual nonexistence in only two years, fueled by a potent cocktail of union and parent activism. Karen E. Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers union, expressly urged parents this year to skip the tests in order to subvert the new teacher evaluations. A surge of activity on social media, especially Facebook, helped show parents a way to protest if they believed their school system overemphasized testing.

“If a certain amount of people opt out, then they’ll have to change it,” said Nanci Leiching, a parent at Bennett. “That’s the goal.”

Though school officials are required to administer the tests, given to children in grades three through eight, many made it clear to parents that it was acceptable to skip it. In Suffolk County, Joseph V. Rella, the superintendent at Brookhaven-Comsewogue, was a vocal critic of the tests, and in his district, 80 percent of students sat out at least one exam. “I’m not encouraging parents to refuse the test, but just to think and be informed,” he said in an interview. But, he added, “If I had kids that age, they wouldn’t go near that test.”

In Onteora, a district of the Hudson Valley framed by lilac-colored mountains, the school board convened a “Task Force for Testing Reduction,” and released a policy statement that said no laws or regulations “expressly prohibit parents and students from refusing” the assessments. Tony Fletcher, the board president, said that he had decided to opt out for his own fourth grade son. Last year, his son took the tests.

“People were saying, ‘Just opt out!’” said Rajahn Dash, a sixth grader at Bennett, whose mother, Lisa Dash, said she had decided to opt him out after watching a video on Facebook.

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By the first day of testing in April, two of every three students in the Onteora district, in the Hudson Valley, who were expected to take the exams had opted out. CreditEmma Tannenbaum for The New York Times

As the number of people who planned to refuse to let their children take the test grew, according to Ms. Roberts, the PTA vice president, dynamics began to shift and the pace of refusals quickened. In a way, it became easier to just go with the flow, she said. Those who bucked the trend, it seems, felt some pressure to keep that decision to themselves.

“The people having their kids tested tended to be more quiet about it,” said Wendy Wolfenson. She joined the test reduction task force but ultimately decided to have her daughter, Grace Molmed, a third grader, sit for the exam this spring because she thought the results would be informative. When she found other parents planning to have their children participate, they felt camaraderie, and maybe a little relief, she said.

Grace told her mother that seven or eight children, out of about 20 students in her class, had taken the tests.

In 440 of the state’s 721 districts, The Times found that at least 165,000 students opted out of at least one test, based on information from districts and local news reports. That figure is four times the number of pupils who had refused the tests in those districts last year. In at least 60 districts, refusers outnumbered the test takers.

In the other 250-plus districts, including New York City’s, by far the state’s largest, data was either unavailable or officials did not respond to requests for information.

Just two years ago, 95 percent student participation in tests, the minimum standard called for by federal requirements, was nearly universal; this year, among districts with available information, only a few reported meeting that standard. In Fairport, near Rochester, for example, participation dropped from 96 percent to 33 percent in a single year.

Official numbers will not be released until the summer, but the total is quite likely to be at least triple the number who opted out in 2014, when 49,000 students without an officially valid excuse, like an illness, did not take the English test, and 67,000 did not sit for the math test, according to the state education department.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department declined to provide an estimate of how many students sat out the assessments, but said the department did not anticipate having less than 95 percent participation. Last year, less than one-half of 1 percent of city students skipped the test, according to the city.

The refusal movement this year was strongest in middle-class districts, although the numbers rose in virtually every district analyzed. The districts where refusal remained low tended to be either very poor or very rich.

“Parents of children in poverty are working, trying to put food on the table,” said Edward Kliszus, the superintendent at Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District, where 61 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies. “They’re not paying attention to this. It’s not a priority.”

The refusal movement sprouted after states instituted tougher tests in recent years aligned to the Common Core standards, which, in many districts, caused scores to plummet.

The Onteora district, which is largely white and middle class, performed above the state average on the tests last year, but not by much. Just 39 percent of district students tested as proficient on the English test, compared to 31 percent statewide.

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Clockwise from top left, Anna Millenson, Ann McGillicuddy, Michele Garner, Christian Caloro, Teddy Byron and Josh Luborsky are all parents of students who opted out of state testing. Ms. McGillicuddy sits on the Onteora Board of Education. CreditEmma Tannenbaum for The New York Times

Many local parents, however, said they had their children skip the tests not because they were afraid of the results, but because they felt they put too much stress on students, for example, or because they wanted to make a statement on behalf of teachers.

In March, Governor Cuomo, dismayed at the large percentage of teachers getting high ratings, succeeded in tying teacher evaluations and tenure decisions more closely to the tests. If fewer than 16 tests are available to apply to a teacher’s score, however, which appears likely in many cases this year, districts will have to produce an alternative rating method, such as using the scores of other students in the school.

Some refusal advocates point to Mr. Cuomo’s effort as a moment that galvanized parents to opt out. But Jim Malatras, the governor’s director of state operations, said the rise in test refusals did not signal a political miscalculation on the part of the governor. This kind of reaction, he said, was to be expected from any substantial shift in policy.

State education departments are responsible for ensuring that districts attain 95 percent participation, using enforcement tools like increased monitoring or withholding certain funds. If the federal education department decides the state is too lenient, the state can be penalized with the same measures, forcing its hand.

However, the department has never withheld money from a state because of low participation — in the past, states have responded in a way the department deemed sufficient, a spokeswoman said — and doing so may be both unpalatable and politically untenable, because many districts that receive substantial federal aid are in poor areas.

Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy organization, said that rather than enforcing the rules, government officials may very well retreat.

“You could write a really good history of education writ large about our tendency in this country to go from one extreme to the other, and this has all the hallmarks of that,” Mr. Pondiscio said. “This is not a prediction, but it would not surprise me to see New York, or someplace else, go from testing every kid within an inch of their life to testing nobody, ever.”

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Infamous John Oliver Video

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Final 2 weeks of Legislative Session

As the legislature and governor begin negotiating a final budget, the AFT CT has organized a “Watch Posse” at the State Capitol to help pass out flyers.They hope to keep the momentum going until the end of session.  Please consider helping out even if it is for a few hours. They are scheduled from 12-5 pm but anytime you are available will be helpful – just let them know before you come up!   Click on the link to sign up for dates and time: http://doodle.com/kd6r27vgt675is3t.

 Here are some of the activities planned for the Watch Posse:

·        Hang out outside the office where Senate and House Leadership and the Governor will be negotiating the budget

·        Pass out AFT provided leaflets to legislators.

·        Hand out stickers to friendly legislators

·        Distribute postcards to legislators that were signed by members (to be done the week of May 25th)

 Please sign up on the dates that you would be able to help out at the State Capitol. Here is the link to sign up:http://doodle.com/kd6r27vgt675is3t

 Teri Merisotis

Member Mobilization Coordinator

AFT CONNECTICUT

35 Marshall Rd.

Rocky Hill, CT 06067

860-257-9782

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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More pictures from May 12 AFT Rally

BFT-11 BFT-12 BFT-6

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

BFT-3 BFT-8

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

New AFT CT Leadership Emerges from 2015 Convention

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Left to Right: Jean Morningstar, 2nd VP; John Brady,1st VP; Ed Leavy, Treasurer; Jan Hochadel, President

The AFT CT held its 2015 convention at the Aqua Turn in Southington today, and significant changes in leadership occurred. Jan Hochadel will be the new President effective July 1. Currently she is President of state vocational-technical schools, and has significant experience serving on the the AFT CT Executive Committee and various other AFT committees and activities at the state and national level. John Brady will be the new 1st VP, and is currently President of Nurses at Backus Hospital, a new union chapter which he helped found. Jean Morningstar and Ed Leavy continue their current positions at 2nd VP and Treasurer, respectively. The BFT delegation congratulates the winners and wishes them success as they lead us into the future.

BFT at AFT CT 2015 Convention

The BFT delegation (L to R) Dave Lattimer; Sandy Adams, Ray LeCara, Dave Hayes, Eric Steinfeld, Bob Merrick, Paul Pinette.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Bristol Teacher Rally Against Testing

Give the Test a Rest Rally 1 Give the Test a Rest Rally 2

More than fifty Bristol teachers rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday against the overuse of testing. They joined hundreds of other teachers from around the state urging legislators to scale back high stakes testing.

Below are related news articles covering the event:

WFSB Channel 3 CBS

Hartford Courant

Connecticut Post

CT News Junkie

CT Mirror

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 
 
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