Teachers unions aren’t exactly shrinking violets when it comes to politics. And nothing fuels political campaigns more than member dues. In California, at least, there’s a blurred line between campaigning and embezzlement – at least according to a prominent conservative legal group. On September 14, the Landmark Legal Foundation formally requested the California Public Employment Relations Board to investigate whether the California Teachers Association (CTA) is illegally financing a multimillion dollar effort to defeat several ballot initiatives in a statewide November 8 special election.
So what’s the story here? Well, the CTA recently imposed a $60 annual special assessment over three years – i.e., $180 per person – on all union members and non-union employees required by state law to pay agency fees to the union for collective bargaining. Union officials claim the money will be routed toward debt retirement. But the Kansas City, Mo.-based Landmark Legal Foundation says this is a ruse. They allege that the 335,000-member CTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association, is pulling a bait and switch, diverting funds to defeat Propositions 75, 76 and several other initiatives supported by a wide range of voters. “We have built a very compelling case that shows that the CTA is using its special assessment to enable it to divert teachers’ dues and fees to pay for campaign activities, which would violate federal and state law,” remarked Landmark President Mark Levin.
From its standpoint, the California Teachers Association has good reason in particular to oppose Propositions 75 and 76. Proposition 75 would prohibit state public employees’ unions from using a member’s dues or agency fees for political activity without that employee’s written consent. The initiative effectively incorporates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Beck decision into California statutes. Proposition 76, strongly backed by GOP Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a budgetary reform measure. It would put into place a firewall mechanism to block the state from raiding funds earmarked for health and social service programs, limiting yearly budget increases to the average growth in revenue for the past three fiscal years. “The only debt the union appears to be retiring through this assessment is what is incurred for the ballot initiative campaign,” said Levin. The CTA already has committed $21 million toward defeating the measures. For more information on the suit, see Landmark’s Web site, www.landmarklegal.org. (Landmark Legal Foundation, 9/14).