California Teachers Association prepares for SCOTUS assault on fair share fees

Temecula’s Wine Country was the backdrop for California Teachers Association (CTA) to bring scores of teacher-leaders, board members, statewide officers, and management together with NEA leaders from Michigan to the Southland to participate in a regional summit discussing best practices for engaging members in a future without Fair Share agency fees.

Conservative think tanks and organizations like the Heritage Foundation have long-targeted Fair Share fees unions receive for services they are obligated to perform on behalf of non-members.  While CTA won a 11th-hour victory in U.S. Supreme Court case CTA vs. Friedrichs in 2016 in defense of these fees, it has acted with the understanding the ruling was a temporary reprieve rather than a reaffirmation of the earlier 9-0 Abood decision in 1977.

It appears that assumption was correct; the U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that similarly challenges the constitutionality of fair share fees, and it will do so with a full complement of nine justices- including newly-seated Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. The decision will not be a four-to-four split, but a definitive ruling that will end our current funding structure. CTA has long-anticipated this, and the Summit is another example of the advanced planning that will enable us to be relevant and authentic to our members at a time when public education faces challenges by privatizers and profiteers.

This proactive stance has already shown success for CTA, with the development of the Long-Term Strategic Plan, and its focus on members, their students, and defending quality public education for every California student no matter their zip code. CTA adopted The Public Education All California Students Deserve, a research-based document outlining core principles that enable the next generation of educators to lead the profession and give them the tools to improve and enhance student learning.

At the Summit, participating CTA members and leaders were offered information on the results of the loss of Fair Share funding, its expected impact on members, and ways to minimize that impact. Developing successful member engagement to mitigate that loss was a major goal of the day’s effort; attendees receiving tools and information to make their local a valuable resource that serves all and is relevant to every member.

Presentations by staff and leaders underscored the importance of continuous member engagement work. Staff and local leaders in Michigan faced an overnight loss of both agency fee and payroll dues deduction. Their insights and success in pulling back membership in the aftermath of this event were factual and frank. Polling data made attendees aware of best practices for engaging their members after the loss of Fair Share. New engagement tools developed for new and ongoing members were showcased on the website at the newly-enhanced Leader Resource Center. CTA’s Institute For Teaching (IFT) linked local success stories of member grant recipients who advanced the profession through innovation and application of their ideas in local schools and institutions to improve professional practice and advance student learning.

At the day’s end, local organizing success stories were highlighted as potential programmatic responses for other like-minded leaders facing similar challenges in their locals. These included successful wage increases and local dues increases in California’s largest teacher union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). South County San Diego’s authentic outreach to immigrant parents who are the target of ice raids along the southern border showed how advocacy for the community makes their local chapters relevant to their most vulnerable citizens. Sacramento City’s community bargaining model has incorporated stakeholder concerns into the negotiations process and opened the bargain to increased member involvement, public view, and comment. Saddleback Valley Educators Association’s SOAR to New Heights Member Engagement Project for the 2017-18 school year illustrated how chapters are using CTA grants to launch chapter-wide programs based on authentic assessments of their members’ needs. Members, staff, and leaders ended the summit by participating in small group discussions on local challenges to member organizing. Success stories of effective local efforts were also highlighted in the group interactions.