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Still Pulling the Strings

eye on the news

Still Pulling the Strings

Even post-Janus, public-employee unions maintain a privileged status. July 12, 2018
California
Education

As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, teachers and other public employees in 22 states can no longer be compelled to pay “agency fees”—the money that the union claims it costs to represent them—as a condition of employment. A teacher in newly liberated California can now save $1,100 or $1,200 per year in fees that the union claimed were necessary to cover the cost of representing him in collective bargaining.

Unions are preparing to take a hit. In advance of the decision, which was widely expected, the California Teachers Association projected a loss of 23,000 members. The union also figures to lose revenue from 28,000 non-members who had quit the union but were forced to cough up the agency fees. In order to soften the financial blow, CTA has announced a per-teacher dues hike of $23 a year for the 2018-2019 school year, bringing teachers’ state dues to $700 annually. CTA’s parent, the National Education Association, bracing for a 10 percent loss in membership, is slashing its budget by $50 million and raising its per-teacher share of dues from $189 to $192.

But while teachers and other public employees are off the unions’ hook, the rest of us Californians are still paying. Taxpayers foot the bill for the collection of union dues, which local school districts deduct from a teacher’s monthly paycheck, just like federal and state withholding taxes. The school districts turn the money over to local teachers’ unions, which don’t pay a penny for the transactions. Simply put, the taxpayer is the bagman for the union. Some states are pushing back, however. A proposed bill in Louisiana would allow school boards to charge unions an administrative fee of up to 3 percent of the union dues.

That’s a start, but public unions remain financially formidable. All unions enjoy tax-exempt status with the IRS. The NEA took in $365.8 million in 2015, according to its most recent available tax return—just about all of it coming from taxpayer-supported teachers’ salaries. The CTA’s income was $183.1 million, per its latest return. In total, the NEA and its state affiliates take in about $1.6 billion a year in tax-free money, and that doesn’t include money paid to NEA locals, the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates, or AFSCME, SEIU, and all the other public-employee unions. The numbers are staggering, and will remain so. The irony is that these unions persistently use their taxpayer-paid, tax-free money to lobby legislators to raise taxes.

To add insult to injury, a new bill in California would make union dues tax-deductible. “Californians, in effect, will collectively subsidize union dues,” reports the Pacific Research Institute. “The bill would cost taxpayers $250 million the first year, $170 million in 2019-20, and $180 million in 2020-21.” The bill has passed muster in the state assembly and is on its way to becoming law. On an ongoing mission to kill off charter schools and voucher programs, the teachers’ unions rail against “privatizers” who seek to profit from public education. But when it comes to a private entity making a killing from public education, the teachers’ unions have the market cornered.

Before, during, and after the Janus proceedings, public unions pumped out a steady stream of clichés, claiming that the court case represented an attempt to “rig the system,” “rig the economy,” and “rig the rules.” But what the Janus decision really did was to bring a semblance of fairness to a system that the unions have been gaming for years. Now that Janus has freed public employees from union domination, taxpayers in California and elsewhere need emancipation from the same abusive special interest.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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