Why Every Adjunct Should Be Watching Friedrichs v. the California Teaching Association


by P.D. Lesko

Agency fees, or as education union officials refer to them, “fair share fees,” are paid to faculty unions by individuals who either choose not to belong to a union, are barred from belonging to the union, or who once were members but for whatever reason decided to opt out of membership. Unionists recognize that agency fees create a strong incentive for those who must pay them to become full members of a union.

Now a case awaits hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court that could dramatically change this picture. In These Times calls Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association one “that could decimate American public sector unionism.” Perhaps that’s simply an ideological overstatement. Nonetheless, the case, if decided for the plaintiffs, could end the practice of “agency” fees—money paid to the union by nonmembers in exchange for collective bargaining services. Unions assert that their elimination would create a class of free riders, workers who would pay nothing while still enjoying the higher salaries and other benefits negotiated by unions.

Over at the blog “The Adjunct Crisis,” writer Geoff Johnson is of the opinion that the case, if decided for the plaintiffs, will hurt adjuncts. Johnson writes:

As for the claim that teachers unions often represent the specific interests of a few, there is some truth to this. Unions by and large represent its most active members, and particularly those who vote on the leadership, fill out negotiating surveys, come to meetings, participate in larger union activities, and vote on whether to ratify a contract or not. For the most part, because full-time employees usually work at one campus and are therefore more engaged with their on-site union than an adjunct teaching at multiple campuses and represented by multiple unions, they are more likely to have their interests and concerns heard by the one union they’re involved with. Ironically, on most, if not nearly all campuses where “wall-to-wall” unions exist, adjuncts represent the majority of members, but vote and participate in such small numbers that they do not effectively lead policy.

To address this problem, adjuncts simply need to vote and participate more, which takes needed time and energy, and will at times lead to frustration when others don’t see your way of thinking at first (welcome to being in a union).

In truth, agency fees are imposed on tens of thousands of faculty nationwide, many of them adjuncts. A look at the AAUP’s 2014 LM-2 financial report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor shows that 11,106 of the group’s 49,444 members are agency fee payers. Only 4,637 of the AAUP’s total members are part-time faculty. In 2010, the AAUP had 48,694 members 4,103 of whom were part-time and 7,977 of whom were agency fee payers.

What this shows is clear: the largest growth segment of membership for the AAUP between 2010 and 2014 did not come through the addition of either newly-organized full-time or part-time faculty, but rather through the addition of agency fee payers.

Lesa Curtis of Westchester, N.Y., right, who is pro agency fees and a former president of her union, rallies outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, as the court heard arguments in the ‘Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association’ case. The justices were to hear arguments in a case that challenges the right of public-employee unions to collect fees from teachers, firefighters and other state and local government workers who choose not to become members. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

American Federation of Teachers’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., reported no agency fee payers on its 2014 LM-2, stating on its financial disclosure that agency fee payers are not considered members of the union. However, in 2014 multiple state AFT chapters took forced fees. New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the largest AFT affiliate, took agency fees from 23,365 nonmembers. AdjunctNation has written repeatedly about NYSUT and its leaders’ penchant for negotiating so-called equal percentage raises. Such negotiating tactics rob adjunct union members and agency fee payers and shift exponentially more in compensation to full-time union members. AFT affiliate California Federation of Teachers reported 12,212 agency fee payers and 55,647 willing union members. California AFT affiliates engaged in similar thievery.

NYSUT’s chicanery to funnel the lion’s share of compensation to its full-time faculty is not unique. In California, union officials cooked up scams used to take money allocated by the California Legislature to raise the pay of part-time faculty and gave the money to full-time faculty, instead.

In “The Equity Pay Scam in California,” published in 2003, I wrote: “During negotiations in certain districts, union and district officials have been exploring ways to allocate the funds to full-time faculty, as well. Part-time faculty activist Margaret Quan, who teaches in the Contra Costa district, attended a BayFac (colleges in the Bay area) meeting last October 29th. ‘The main topic for discussion was not whether or not, but how full-time faculty could benefit by this augmentation. Parts of the discussion I found distressing…the union in [one of these] districts has decided that they would take the COLA [cost of living adjustment] entirely for full-time faculty, while giving the part-time faculty in their district a raise from the augmentation money.’”

AFT union leaders in Washington State used the same scams to funnel money legislators in that state had earmarked for equity pay increases for the state’s 10,000 part-time faculty.

Higher education union leaders have been doing the “pay equity” song and dance since 2009 and this epic failure to equally represent all union members has hurt non-tenured faculty badly. Per course pay averages $3,000 for part-timers thanks, in part, to equal percentage raises over the past two decades and policies crafted by unions that undermined the idea that adjuncts must earn equal pay for equal work. The current political push on the part of unionists and their allies to pay adjuncts $5,000 per course is equally misguided, and the equivalent of poverty wages as opposed to pro rata pay.

Is it any wonder, then, that agency fee payers, including adjunct faculty, would like to opt out of paying the six-figure salaries of the union officials who, for the past three decades, have worked diligently against their own members’ best interests? Union contracts negotiated on behalf of adjunct faculty union members have for decades capped, among other things, numbers of adjunct faculty, adjunct faculty hours, pay, benefits, denied due process and professional development opportunities.

While Geoff Johnson writes that union officials have perpetrated these actions against their own adjunct faculty members because adjuncts themselves participate in such small numbers in union life and leadership roles, I would gently and kindly reply thusly: Hell to the NO! That argument, quite simply, blames the victim. Perhaps adjuncts shouldn’t wear short skirts and perfume so their union leaders won’t screw them? Perhaps Friedrichs vs. the California Teaching Association will be just the cattle prod needed to jolt education union leaders at local, state and national levels into finally offering all members equal representation. Perhaps union leaders will uniformly begin to negotiate contracts that provide equal benefits and pay to all union members.

SCOTUS blog will have all the details when the Supreme Court’s decision is released. Until then, I’m of the opinion that Friedrichs vs. the California Teaching Association will be a game-changer within higher education. Education union leaders have, for 30 years, looked on the adjunct members from whom they’ve accepted union dues and agency fees to represent much like Scrooge looked on the poor, as so much surplus population that, if lost, would not be missed.

Geoff Johnson writes, “Chances are likely that the agency fee will fall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join the union. What it does mean is that now, more than ever, you need to join the teacher’s union at your place of work. If you don’t have one, then you should contact a local teacher’s union about starting one. You know the old cliché, ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ The fact of the matter is, it’s true. It’s time to unify and unionize good adjuncts.”

I agree, wholeheartedly with his sentiment but unionization in locals whose leaders, through the use of dues and agency fees, finance shoddy and unequal representation harm their adjunct members both professionally and financially.

If the U.S. Supreme Court can put an end to that decades-long travesty, the sooner the better.



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