Supreme Court to Hear Agency Fee Case

The petitions for writs of certiorari are granted.

And with that, public sector labor unions may be changed forever.

Oral arguments and an actual decision are still months away, but the unions that would be most affected by an adverse ruling have already vented their anger in a press release.

It manages to squeeze in the words “working people” 12 times. We’re all working people, and nine out of ten of us do not belong to unions.

One sentence in the release is particularly risible:

However, the people behind this case simply do not believe that working people deserve the same freedoms they have: to negotiate a fair return on their work.

They are right about one thing: The “people behind this case” do have the freedom to negotiate a fair return on their work, because they don’t belong to a union. Any individual employed at a job where exclusive bargaining is instituted has no freedom to negotiate anything. That right is surrendered to the union.

The 1977 Abood ruling, which Janus would overturn, was problematic at the time. Forty years later, we might finally stop using governmental power to force working people to pay fees to a private organization they did not choose, or lose their job.


First Set of Iowa Locals Vote Overwhelmingly to Recertify Union

The Iowa legislature passed a collective bargaining law that requires all of the state’s public sector unions to face recertification elections. Elections in the first 13 school districts are now complete, and the Iowa State Education Association can bask in a decisive victory.

All 13 ISEA locals were recertified, and by very large margins. More impressive was the 89% turnout in the mail-in election. Future votes will be conducted electronically.

It’s a good sign for ISEA and other public sector unions, who face 475 elections next month, and 800 more over the course of the next two years.


The X-Punged Files

The Louisville City School District in Ohio reached a settlement with the teachers’ union over the fate of three school employees accused of deleting thousands of school files before the union went on strike last November.

You can read the story to get to the particulars of the offense and the settlement, but going back over the history of the dispute, I found the timeline of events even more interesting.

Nov. 2: The 180-member Louisville Education Association goes on strike.

Nov. 22: The union says it will end the strike if the school board will include a no-retaliation clause in the new contract. The provision would have prevented the school board from pursuing “any pending or potential discipline of bargaining unit members for any alleged pre-strike activity.”

Nov 23: The superintendent reveals 10 teachers are under investigation for deleting thousands of files from school computers. The union contends the incident has nothing to do with its request for a no-reprisal clause. A union spokesperson states the provision is “the handshake that starts the healing process.”

Nov. 28: After the board refuses to add the provision, the union ends the strike without a contract and the teachers return to work.

Nov. 29: The 10 teachers under investigation are placed on paid leave.

Jan. 17: The board reaches a settlement with seven of the 10 teachers. One resigns, while the other six lose five days’ pay and are placed on probationary status for five years. The three remaining teachers are suspended without pay pending termination. The union issues a statement that reads, in part:

The LEA stands with all ten exemplary teachers who have been unreasonably accused of wrongdoing. In the case of these three outstanding colleagues, we will support them as they fight this wrongful termination.

June 20: Two of three suspended teachers drop their appeal and resign. They were allowed to use accumulated sick leave to cover the period they were suspended and were paid about $30,000 each.

Sept. 22: The final teacher, Shawn Arbogast, resigns and accepts an agreement similar to that of his suspended colleagues. A second settlement was reached between the board and the Ohio Education Association, representing its UniServ director for the region, Allison Hoffa.

The state union agreed to pay the board $75,000. This would be very curious, if the Canton Repository hadn’t discovered the reason through a public records request.

The newspaper reported that an October 5 message – four weeks before the strike – posted by Arbogast on the Louisville Education Association’s private Facebook page gave detailed instructions on how teachers could permanently delete files from their school computers. The Repository recounted what happened next:

“If you wish to permanently delete your files, you must do it ASAP to avoid them being able to be recovered,” the message reads.

A post on Oct. 6 shows a Louisville teacher asking, “We are being recommended to do this correct????”

Hoffa’s response to the teacher reads, “We recommend you do this to preserve the hard work you have put into your lesson planning for your students. We do not know what access SCABS may have to these files.”

A couple of footnotes: Interesting attempt by the union to use the collective bargaining process itself to head off punishment for a pre-strike offense. Stuff like this is how contracts end up several hundred pages long.

Second, none of the 10 was fired and it doesn’t appear any of them lost pay. On the other hand, after their union claimed they were all wrongfully accused and promised to fight their suspension and dismissal, it ultimately settled in order to “save the time and expense of costly litigation,” according to the final agreement. A timely example of how these things work, to be sure.


The Return of the New Jersey Kerfuffle

Columnist Tom Moran of the Newark Star-Ledger got a copy of the New Jersey Education Association’s 2015-16 tax-exempt filings from the IRS. He discovered that NJEA officers and staff make some pretty good scratch.

Moran then wrote a column headlined, “Classroom teachers: Your union leaders are gouging you.” He noted that the top five officials made an average of $764,000 in compensation. “The big winner was the executive director, Ed Richardson, who pulled in $1.2 million, roughly twice what the national union pays its executive director,” he wrote. The rest of the column discussed NJEA’s unusual campaign against New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester). The story has received 626 shares and 447 comments.

The last time this happened, it involved the previous NJEA executive director, Vincent Giordano, and his roughly $450,000 in compensation.

Richardson’s salary was about $340,000. Most of the rest of the $1.2 million is “retirement and deferred compensation.” We can’t tell from the IRS filings exactly what that is, but it includes “the annual increase or decrease in actuarial value, if any, of a defined benefit plan.”

So that money most probably consists of: a) NJEA’s contribution toward Richardson’s pension for 2015-16; b) the increase in value of his pension over that year based on market performance; and c) income Richardson received on which he deferred paying taxes to a future year.

There are plenty of things to be more outraged about than the $1.2 million:

* The idea that NJEA’s executive salaries are justified because they were “approved by the members” and “voted on democratically.” Nonsense. The union’s representative bodies vote on an overall budget. Most members and even reps have no clue what the big-wigs are paid.

* The idea that Richardson is worth the money because he oversees an organization of 200,000 members. Richardson has nothing to do with 200,000 members. His job is to oversee a staff of about 550 people. Make comparisons on that basis.

* Richardson’s pension and post-retirement health benefits, and those of the rest of NJEA’s employees, total almost $220 million in liabilities. That’s almost $83 million more than the union has in assets.

* Why do people defer income? Because they want to avoid paying the higher marginal tax rates during their peak earning years. The union believes this is a sin when CEOs do it, but perfectly all right when their officers do it. Giordano retired as executive director in December 2013, but NJEA paid him $241,000 in deferred salary in 2014-15, and $159,000 in 2015-16. The previous NJEA president received $127,000 in severance pay, even though union elected officers are term-limited.

* NJEA sent $5,000 to Jeffco United for Action, a political action committee formed to elect school board candidates in Jefferson County, Colorado. Yes, Colorado. The PAC was later fined for multiple violations of the state’s fair campaign practices act.

* NJEA’s officers receive money for companion travel, a “discretionary spending account” and a $1,000 clothing allowance.

So enjoy this photo of Wendell Steinhauer’s suit from 2015, NJEA members. You paid for it.