After the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected but critical blow to public labor unions, local teachers unions are expected to remain strong because of high membership rates and union support.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 27 that employees who are not union members will no longer have to pay the union’s agency fees in states where they were previously required.
Twenty-two states, including California, required workers covered by public-sector unions to pay agency fees that went toward collective bargaining but not political activities. Proponents, including the five conservative Supreme Court justices, argued that the decision protects the First Amendment.
In the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, 99.5 percent of employees are members of the union, according to MVLA District Teachers Association President David Campbell, so it is not expected to lose much funding.
Similarly, nearly every teacher in the Los Altos School District is a member of the Los Altos Teachers Association, said Laurel McNeil, a member and former president of the association.
However, McNeil said the ruling is detrimental to teachers in the long run.
“It’s a sorry state of affairs in general, because the agency fee-payers do reap the benefits of all the things that we negotiate for,” said McNeil, who teaches sixth grade at Oak Avenue School.
Campbell, who teaches Spanish at Mountain View High School, said in advance of the ruling that union members worked hard to shore up support.
They held regular meetings to provide updates on negotiations and solicit feedback, and they reminded teachers of ways the union has helped them over the years in securing raises and pushing for more classroom support and smaller class sizes.
“To think that it’s easy for people to go in and negotiate for themselves is a crock of poo, if you ask me,” McNeil said. “Unions level the playing field.”
MVLA union members pay a total of $924 annually to the local, state and national labor organizations, according to Campbell. Agency fees were approximately $200 annually, he added. So if the district’s only two current nonmembers stop paying agency fees, the union won’t lose much money.
However, some fear that the Supreme Court decision will cause unions to lose members, not just money from agency fees. Education policy researchers Bradley Marianno and Katharine Strunk found that when agency fees were lifted in Michigan and Wisconsin, the unions lost membership. Before, teachers were deciding between paying full membership dues and receiving full union membership benefits and paying agency fees and not receiving all of those benefits. Researchers surmised that some may have felt that if they had to pay something, they might as well pay the full amount and reap all of the benefits.
Now, they can choose to pay the union nothing.
Campbell said they don’t have as much at stake as other communities, because the district and the union have always maintained a positive relationship and he doesn’t expect to lose members. He’s more concerned about parts of the state where people would rather do away with unions altogether.
Even if more of his fellow teachers leave the union, Campbell said he would continue to represent them, because that’s how collective bargaining works.
“I represent them no matter what, so whether they pay or not doesn’t change how I treat them,” he said. “What happens to them matters to me.”
McNeil said she hopes that the ruling will actually make the unions stronger in the face of adversity.
“When we’ve really needed to, we have stuck together,” she said. “When things matter for students and for teachers, we stand together and act.”