Member Lethargy a Boon to Union Coffers

A largely overlooked portion of the Friedrichs lawsuit is its fall-back argument. In the event the U.S. Supreme Court upholds agency fees, the plaintiffs ask that unions be required to get members to opt-in to paying for non-chargeable activities, rather than require fee-payers to opt-out. In other words, the default status of employees in a bargaining unit would be fee-payer.

I don’t know if this flies as a legal argument, but the unions will fight any effort that requires positive action on the part of members to fund their operations. As a general rule, you always want to be in a position to gain if people do nothing, rather than have to urge them to act. It’s the primary reason we have payroll deduction of income taxes.

We can see the effect in real dollars if we take a look at the difference between the collection of contributions for the California Teachers Association’s ABC PAC and that of the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education PAC.

Both are candidate PACs, but in California the union is allowed a “reverse check-off” for contributions to state candidates. That is, a portion of each CTA member’s dues go to the PAC unless they object on the membership enrollment form. So, if you do nothing, $18.35 of your dues goes to the PAC.

Federal PACs are not allowed to do that. So the NEA Fund has to raise its money by soliciting donations from members. If you do nothing, the NEA Fund gets nothing.

CTA’s ABC PAC collects almost $4.3 million each year, which is the full-dues equivalent contribution of about 235,000 members. By way of contrast, only 9,300 CTA members voluntarily gave to the NEA Fund last year.

The impulse to do nothing is so strong that half of the members of United Teachers Los Angeles couldn’t be moved to vote on a $228 annual dues increase, which passed easily. The effect of the vote will be that future dues increases from national and state affiliates will be automatically passed on to the members without a vote. This ensures an increased revenue stream for the union while the members do nothing.

This is why it’s hard to take seriously the unions’ calls for increased organizing and activism. Sure, they want more members on their bandwagon, but the last thing they want is an organized group of members steering the bandwagon onto a different road. Keeping a large segment of the rank-and-file complacent and neutralized is the only way union leadership can do, and spend, what they want.