By Rick Karlin
Three months after the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus ruling, teachers appear to be sticking with their union, even though they are no longer required to pay dues or a fee in lieu of their dues.
"I'm at 100 percent give or take a percent," Laura Franz, president of the Albany Public School Teachers Association (APSTA) said of her members' decisions to overwhelmingly remain in the union.
The city school district recently asked the union to provide union cards from its members in order to ascertain that the district's list is up to date. Under state law, a public employer such as a school district withholds dues from union members and sends that money to the union.
With just one or two exceptions, almost all of the union's 974 members agreed to continue paying dues, Franz said.
APSTA's parent organization, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), has seen similar results. In the wake of the Janus decision, NYSUT instituted a new rule that provided a one-month window, in August, during which union members could leave the union and halt their dues payments.
But just 200 members from a total of 450,000 statewide have left the union in recent months, said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn.
Korn stressed that the union for some time has been working to convince members that it's worthwhile to retain their memberships. That was in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling which came in June.
In Janus v. AFSCME, the court overturned a four-decade tradition in which public employees who weren't members of their unions had to pay the equivalent of dues through a separate fee. Union supporters said the decision was an attack on public sector unions, while opponents said people shouldn't be forced to pay for union activities that they may not support.
But there doesn't seem to have been a wholesale exodus from public sector unions at this point.
Still, the changes have led to some extra work for unions and employers. In gathering and providing the district its list of union cards, APSTA's Franz said she redacted some information such as personal emails of union members.
Emails became an issue days after the Janus decision when teachers in various districts, including some in New York state, received email blasts from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative group that opposes teacher unions.
The emails said that teachers are no longer required to pay dues-like fees and could quit their union and save money.
Franz said in the case of many APSTA members, spam filters caught those emails and blocked them.
A few other school districts have requested union cards from their teachers, especially if they didn't have the cards on file, said Michael Borges, executive director of the state Association of School Business Officials.
Additionally, at least one county board of supervisors, in Saratoga County, earlier in the summer said it needed copies of union cards from workers represented by the Civil Service Employees Association, or CSEA.
A similar episode cropped up between the Syracuse school district and its CSEA workers.
CSEA spokeswoman Shannon Hutton said members are by and large continuing to pay dues into the 300,000-member organization.
At another state worker union, the Public Employees Federation (PEF), the number of members who have left since the decision is "minimal," said spokeswoman Jane Briggs. She added that PEF in recent months has gotten several hundred people who used to pay fees rather than dues to become full-fledged members.
Public sector union dues such as those paid by teachers vary depending on salaries. They can run from several hundred to approximately $1,000 annually.
Union opponents are keeping up their push, however.
"We're running ads," said Robert Bellafiore, spokesman for New Choice NY.
The group is a nonprofit that Bellafiore says informs public employees about their rights. Funded by some national donors who are critical of public unions, New Choice NY has been focusing on Janus-related issues since the court decision.
The organization has recently purchased radio spots that talk about how public employees can still get the benefits of collective bargaining including pensions and health care as well as dental and vision benefits, even if they no longer pay dues. The group also has put up billboards along commuter routes in the Albany area.
In Albany, teachers' union members this week are voting on a new contract proposal. They are going into their third school year without a new contract. Under state labor law, though, many of the terms for the old contract remain in place. "We're hoping to settle," said Franz.
(c)2018 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)