Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The fair-share bargain 

Hugo Schwyzer is a union member of the faculty at Pasadena City College, and he's glad others are now being obligated to pay fair share dues.

Since 2001, California law has permitted public employee unions to collect fees from non-members. The principle is simple -- no full-time teacher ought to receive for free the benefits that his or her colleagues have paid to negotiate. Membership in the union itself, of course, is voluntary -- and those who will now have the fair share fee automatically deducted from their paychecks will not be obligated to participate in union activities.

I confess I have mixed feelings about forcing some of my virulently anti-union colleagues into paying for union activities. ... I have to confess that when union membership was voluntary, I took a small amount of pleasure in gently reminding the non-payers in the department that my voluntary dues were subsidizing their benefits! Now, I expect to hear their outrage.

Non-union faculty at SCSU also pay fair share dues of 85%. Now the question is whether 85% of union expenses are directly tied to the costs of collective bargaining, which is what the law is supposed to allow. I have periodically requested an accounting of the expenditures of the union to verify that fair share rates are being spent appropriately. The data I get back are always vague.

Our union, for example, has a lobbyist who is supposed to help us get more money from the Legislature. Yesterday's letter included a lengthy discussion of the "anti-gay marriage amendment" and a discussion of his continued opposition to the bill for alternative teacher licensure, a bill which our administration and the Minnesota Association of Colleges of Teacher Education no longer oppose (they did last year.) Whose interests does he represent? Certainly not mine.

Scholar Dave has written several fine pieces on the curse of fair-share (non)membership. I would hope, for instance, that unlike our fools at SCSU, PCC will allow its fair-share members to still participate in faculty governance. I also hopes it has a structure that doesn't prove particularly harmful for fair-share faculty who wish to become administrators and work as department chairs as the natural first step. At SCSU chairs are still considered faculty and covered under the faculty contract. As such they cannot be grieved by fellow union members. If someone wants to grieve a chair they must instead take their claim against the administration. That sounds good, but then a grievance against a chair proceeds without the chair gaining any information about what is happening. Indeed, under labor laws in Minnesota the chair cannot be told what the grievance against him or her is. It's happened here several times, and faculty willing to be chairs as a result are harder and harder to find. My view is that the best way to handle this is to make chairs administrators and take them out of the faculty contract; there could be reasons why that's a bad idea, but they'd have to be weighed versus the serious lack of due process accorded chairs under present arrangements.

(In case any one is interested, no, this isn't about my own situation. I'm blessed to have a department that could run itself without a chair and with a great deal of camraderie. Of course, we don't have merit pay, which makes us poorer financially but reduces the chances to squander our bonhomie.)

I'm glad Mr. Schwyzer thinks his dues will fall as he is able to have costs shifted back onto what he views as free-riders in his faculty. I do wonder, however, how many other costs will be shifted onto his colleagues? Before they were free riders, now indentured servants to the union's agenda?