Saturday, July 14, 2018

Should the State Pay Bargaining Fees?

That's what this piece contends. It's an interesting notion. Because Janus is a potential loss of bargaining power for unions, the state should pay it. This way, unions retain the same power they'd have otherwise, even when freeloaders choose to dump expenses on those of us who believe in community. This would neutralize the worst side effects of Janus.

I see issues with this. One is that in negotiations, we are adversarial. It's our job to maximize compensation, and the state's job to save money. It's kind of perverse for us to depend on our adversary for bargaining power. Also, who's to say the state won't just say, "Hey, we're giving you guys too much money. We're cutting the fee by 50% because, you know, we just feel like it."

I don't think that's far-fetched. Who knows who will control the state? Right now, we have a Democrat governor who ran on a platform of going after unions. That was fashionable, you know, because the big thing for Democrats that year was to triangulate and pretty much become marginally less insane Republicans. This year, of course, with Donald Trump as President of the United States, with Hillary a massive failure, he adores us and we're his bestest buds. Things change, especially with politicians who have no moral center who bend any which way the wind blows.

There is a marginal upside to Janus, to wit, union leadership that is more answerable to membership. I see that happening somewhat right here. Unity Caucus is entrenched, with some terrible habits, but the smarter members have opened their ears. I see that particularly in the fact that fewer observations now appears to be within our grasp. Months ago we were vehemently disagreeing over that at Executive Board. Now I think many in leadership are waking up and saying, "Hey, you know what? Teachers are not fond of excessive observations and maybe we should do something about it."

I see this in the negotiations for parental leave. A lot of people say this was a perfect storm and that's why it happened. I agree. But part of this perfect storm is the need for leadership to bring a victory to members. While there are detractors, and while our agreement is not perfect, no agreement is. For my money, and for those of members with whom I speak, this is a huge improvement.

I'll go out on a limb and say I think we have seen the last of giveback-laden awful contracts like the one we saw in 2005. Leadership now needs to worry about deals like that one. That's a good thing. Were we to partner with the state, not only would that end, but we'd run the risk of losing funding. The state could hold that over our collective heads. If every union in the state doesn't agree to these crap contracts, we'll pull your funding. Given all your deadbeat members, you'll be nothing.

I don't want to be dependent on notoriously fickle government for the funding of my union. We need to take a bad thing and make something good out of it. Specifically, we need a more responsive leadership. We should never be negotiating away fundamental seniority rights for a few extra bucks. We ought never to have created the ATR. We ought never to place ourselves in a position in which the state can say, "Hey, give us a time frame to fire ATR members or we're gonna pull all your funding."

Leadership now has to focus on organizing. While that reflects a lot of extra work, and while that work makes its way down to people like me, it's work we should've been doing for decades. Whatever happens with Janus, organizing reflects a substantive improvement. We need to build on that rather than finding shortcuts to avoid it.

An activated and informed union is a superior union. We can't just sit around and ask why Mulgrew hasn't solved all our problems. We need to be hands-on and face them ourselves. The notion of state funding for unions moves us backward. We cannot afford to move that way ever again.
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