Thursday, July 24, 2008

Union Dues Now Permanently Mandatory for Public Employees

NOTE: Read Sean Ahern comments below


Published: July 24, 2008

ALBANY — As political rituals go, it was one of Albany’s most predictable.

Every two years, a state law that required public employees to pay their unions’ dues regardless of whether they joined would near expiration. And every two years, the Legislature would renew the law. For more than three decades, unions pushed to make it permanent. But lawmakers, mainly Republicans in the State Senate who wanted the Legislature to have some degree of leverage over the state’s powerful public sector unions, blocked those attempts, arguing that a permanent extension of the law would amount to a big giveaway to organized labor.

Now, Gov. David A. Paterson has given the state’s public-employee unions their long-desired victory. On Wednesday, his office announced that he had signed a law making union dues mandatory in perpetuity for all public employees who are covered by unions even if they opt not to join.

The law affects mostly state workers, as well as county employees, public school teachers and other civil servants.

The Legislature overwhelmingly approved the bill last month. Similar bills had passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly before, only to fail in the Senate. But with Republicans in a pitched battle to preserve their thin majority in the Senate, the party seemed unwilling to block a priority of organized labor.

It passed the Senate last month by a 62-to-0 vote. The Assembly approved it 140 to 5.

Labor leaders said on Wednesday that making the law permanent guaranteed that unions would have the money to adequately represent members and nonmembers alike, which they were required to do under a state law known as the Taylor Law.

“In public employment, they have the right not to belong, but I still must represent them,” said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. “If under the law we’re obligated to represent every employee, then it’s only fair that every employee pays something toward the cost of being represented.”

But critics of a permanent policy said that the new law was far too generous.

“It’s a very, very significant present to the labor unions,” said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning research group.

“What it does is it removes one of the few remaining leverage points people still have over unions. And management, which is the taxpayer, has very, very little remaining leverage.”

A spokesman for the governor, Errol Cockfield, pointed out that because the law had been renewed every two years since 1977, the first year it was enacted, it has long been de facto state policy.

He added that in the governor’s estimation, it was a fair practice to make employees who declined union membership but were nonetheless represented pay dues.

Others said the law was a major concession to organized labor, which has been criticized as getting its way far too often in Albany. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved — over the objection of New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg — a bill that banned student test scores from being factored in when tenure was being considered for teachers.

The New York State School Boards Association, which urged Mr. Paterson to veto the union dues legislation, said in a letter to the governor that the bill amounted to “denying school districts an important bargaining tool.”

The association added, “This legislation grants employee unions one of their primary bargaining goals without requiring that they negotiate for it.”

Darcy Wells, a spokeswoman for the New York State Public Employees Federation, rejected that.

“Finally, the governor has stepped up and made it permanent,” Ms. Wells said.

“This has been a long time coming, and we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Sean Ahern Comments from ICE-mail:

Union Dues Mandatory in NY State

"Permanently Mandatory", except when NY public employees go on strike.

Last I heard, TWU Local 100 still has its dues check off revoked.

I'm not arguing against the law per se, its just that the law has served to buttress the shift in accountability of union leadership from the rank and file membership to the City and the courts. Lack of accountability didn't start with agency shop but it is definitely supported by it. So it's permanence affixed by law is a mixed blessing in my view and largely irrelevant to the urgent need for organizing the organized and the unorganized. It might even serve to promote greater complacency among the municipal union leadership. Quite the opposite of what NYC CLC President(?) Ed Ott has called for.

The UFT was first rewarded with agency shop in the 1969 contract, after its white supremacist role in the 1968 strike against community control. The agency shop provision assisted Shanker in his efforts to undermine the African American Teachers Association,which began first as a caucus within the UFT, but subsequently became an independent organization of Black teachers supported by voluntary membership dues. After the imposition of the agency shop, it was a burden to pay dues twice. Once as a mandatory payroll deduction to the the Shanker led UFT, and again to the organization of choice , the AATA, which included among its leaders, Al Vann and Jitu Weusi. Talk about taxation without representation! Exclusive bargaining agent designation combined with agency shop provisions is part of what keeps UFT Inc in business. It doesn't matter whether the members vote or participate or they don't, the 'tough liberals' still collect all your dues.

I think a more democratic structural change, apart from the obvious right to strike, would allow the individual member to designate a limited portion of their mandatory dues to a caucus within the exclusive bargaining agent thereby facilitating a more robust internal life within the union instead of the one caucus control of all patronage that now prevails.

With its existence no longer dependent on the dues stream from city hall, the leadership and membership of TWU Local 100, representing the city's quintessential proletarians, are going through the birth pangs of what will hopefully be a new model, for working class solidarity and unionism. Even if they fall prey to external pressure or intercine conflict in the attempt, an effort is being made, contentious as it is.

The dues stream, the real estate holdings, the insurance plans, the retirement system of the UFT, the city's largest union local, is a web of interests defining the "bottom line" to be protected by the leadership. Our union assumes a corporate identity, another self serving 'special interest', a collection of trade union bureaucrats and hangers on, instead of a mass organization for the advancement of mutually agreed upon goals.

Our union today is an institution that can not simply be changed by voting in new leadership. A change in leadership, a strike and subsequent detachment from the dues stream is not a sufficient guarantee that a union leadership will be accountable to the membership. The change needed is a paradigm shift in outlook, expectations, and methods of operation from a service business model that defends white racial privileges to a schools based detachment of the working people in solidarity with the communities of color we serve.

Solidarity, for starters, begins at home. I hope you all will join in an effort to place the issue of the Disappearing Black and Latina/o educator on the UFT agenda as well as in our school communities this fall. (for more info on the Disappearing... go to Sam Anderson's blog at :

Peace and Solidarity,


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