CEA Leadership Team on Agency Fee Case
The assault on organized labor by forces that want to destroy unions is moving before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
If the Court were to rule against the California Teachers Association, the decision would be monumental. It would affect all unions, including what CEA does and how we do it. We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
Our preparation requires us to examine and strengthen every link that connects us. Later in this column, we will address the vital link that your local Association building representative provides. First, however, we want to share more about the Friedrichs case with you.
Friedrichs asks Court to undermine employee protections
If you have not heard much about the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association court case, you will. It is an attack on our individual rights and our collective right to organize and succeed.
The case centers around the future of fair share fees, sometimes called agency fees. Such fees have been permitted for decades in the United States and are part of tens of thousands of public-sector collective bargaining relationships, including our Associations here in Connecticut.
A fair share fee payer is someone who has elected not to be a union member but who is covered by the union contract and has limited access to the rights and benefits provided by the union. In Connecticut, individuals who enjoy contractual benefits are required to pay a portion of the union dues to cover those benefits rather than take a "free ride" on the contributions and work of others. This is a principle of fundamental fairness.
Importantly, the procedures that have been established for calculating and collecting agency fees ensure that fee payers do not pay even a penny for union political activities with which a fee payer may disagree.
The petitioners in Friedrichs, who are supported by the conservative legal group Center for Individual Rights, seek to overturn decades of precedent on the theory that the First Amendment prohibits fair share fees. If the Supreme Court were to accept that view, the strength of public-sector bargaining would be undermined, as unions would be required to represent for free those individuals who benefitted from their services but declined to pay for them. That result would be devastating for our schools and students. The court is expected to issue a decision by June 2016.
Uncertainty will make us even stronger
Our Association is built on the accomplishments and unity of generations of teachers. Our job going forward is to ensure that our union is strong for generations to come, regardless of how the high court rules. And, against the uncertainty of the high court proceedings, we need to stay focused on our common purpose, our shared values, and our responsibilities to one another.
Our interconnectedness starts at the school building level where Association building representatives play a vital role. Because their leadership role is time-tested and fundamental, building representatives will help us navigate the potentially difficult and uncertain circumstances ahead.
The only direct contact many members may ever have with their Association is through their building representative, who is a critical school leader. There is no replacement for well-trained, dedicated building representatives when it comes to providing service to members. This is why CEA has launched an initiative to offer organizing training and support to building representatives. By December, CEA staff will have met with more than one-third of locals, with the goal of training nearly all local Association leaders by the end of the school year.
The goal of the organizing training is to strengthen the relationship between Association members and their leaders by teaching executive boards and building representatives three aspects of organizing: membership assessment, leadership identification, and one-on-one conversations with members.
Thank a building representative
A building representative serves as organizer, advisor, contract enforcer, spokesperson, problem solver, advocate, and communicator. First and foremost, a building representative's job is to develop strong relationships with members through one-on-one conversations, so that he/she can represent those members and serve as a link between them and their Association. Other key responsibilities include:
- Holding meetings of the members to communicate information, seek input and direction on issues, and address member concerns and questions
- Meeting with building administration on a regular basis to bring forward concerns of the membership
- Coordinating the prompt distribution to members of materials from the local, CEA and NEA as well as the timely collection of materials from members
- Orienting new members to Association activities and services
- Interpreting and defending the local contract for members
- Handling lower level grievances
- Serving as an advocate for members in meetings with their supervisor
- Representing members at all local Association meetings
- Identifying and developing new Association leaders
This is quite a list of responsibilities, especially since your building representative is a volunteer. If you have not thanked your building representative lately, we encourage you to join us in saying a huge thank you!
Holding steadfast to our core values
With the Supreme Court decision looming, we are at a critical point. We are at another milestone in our Association's history. And we are steadfast in our belief that our Association is the only organization with the courage to stand up and the power to make a difference for teachers, children, and public education. Only our Association has the impassioned commitment, the structure, the financial wherewithal, and the people necessary to protect teachers' rights and push forward to make teachers' vision of equity and excellence in public education a reality.
The uncertainty that hangs over us is not pushing our limits. It is pushing us to new heights.