By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Cyr, Gallagher-Fishbaugh, Strickland, Hicks, Lindquist
“After paycheck deception was enacted, politicians put a chokehold on us and there was a further shift toward big business,” says Penni Cyr, Idaho Education Association president. “We could not make significant political contributions. We lost education-friendly legislators. That was just the beginning.”
Idaho NEA affiliate members learned the hard way that their right to contribute to political causes cannot be taken for granted after their Legislature enacted a Prop. 32-like “paycheck deception” law that legally changed the way the union collects money for IEA’s Political Action Committee for Education (PACE). This could happen in California if Proposition 32 is passed by voters in November, and Cyr warns that it will have devastating consequences.
For example, three bad laws were passed by the Idaho Legislature attacking teacher rights after the passage of paycheck deception. One of the laws takes away bargaining rights; another pays teachers based on test scores. And the third, says Cyr, “trades teachers for laptops. It eliminated more than a thousand teaching positions by mandating that every student in the state take two online classes to graduate.”
A legal challenge was mounted. The IEA successfully petitioned to get all three laws on the November ballot, and is working hard to get them all repealed. But it has less money to fight with.
“The political playing field is tilted toward big business,” says Cyr. “Corporations consistently outspend the teachers union. Our 10,000 IEA members in the classroom try to be the voice for students who don’t have a political voice. When you don’t have a balanced system in place, someone loses. And that someone is our students.”
Before paycheck deception, IEA members had the right to opt out of making political contributions through their dues, which is also the case in California. The new model created a logistical nightmare for the association. The percentage of members contributing to the association’s PAC dropped significantly, because the way to contribute became so confusing. The union waged a legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost.
In Idaho, the Legislature imposed paycheck deception. In California, it is something the voters will decide Nov. 6. Cyr urges CTA members to embrace the “opportunity” to campaign wholeheartedly against the measure aiming to silence the voice of labor, which she wishes IEA had been able to do.
“We learned a lot from this experience,” says Cyr. “What happened to us reinforced the notion that everything that happens in education is a political decision. We learned it’s imperative for teachers to be involved in the political process. You have an opportunity to stop this in California. Learn from our experience. Do what needs to be done. Take every opportunity you have to protect your political voice. Fight as hard as you can to defeat Prop. 32.”
Idaho is not the only state that has lost political clout due to “special exemption” acts like Prop. 32.
Utah Education Association
“Stifles your voice and decreases your influence to fight for kids.”
“The Legislature’s intent was to reduce our ability to raise funds for political purposes, and that was accomplished,” says Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, UEA president. “Our PAC money for campaigns and candidates was reduced by about 75 percent. After this happened, the Utah Legislature became much more conservative in terms of education-friendly candidates.”
After paycheck deception went into effect in 2002, teacher retirement was the next thing to come under attack by lawmakers, who reduced benefits for new hires and changed the retirement limit from 30 years of service to 35. Then came vouchers for private schools, but that legislation was repealed after a lengthy battle.
Gallagher-Fishbaugh’s message for CTA members: “Paycheck deception measures like Prop. 32 have a direct impact on your ability to participate in the political world. It will change how you do business — and not in a positive way. It quiets your voice. It stifles your voice and it decreases the influence you have — as an individual and as an advocacy organization — to fight for our students.”
Alabama Education Association
“Robs your ability to lobby for smaller class size and safe schools.”
“It will limit your ability to lobby for things like smaller class size, more textbooks and safer schools,” says Alabama Education Association President Dot Strickland. “We learned we must be vocal eternally and active with legislators. We must be watchful and outspoken. What happened to us renewed our commitment to our profession, which involves organizing, political action and speaking out.”
The Alabama Legislature attempted to end payroll deduction (collecting any dues money via payroll from AEA members), and that attempt is currently under appeal. Meanwhile, the association mobilized and created an alternative method for members to voluntarily deduct dues from their bank account. So far, 92 percent of members have signed up for this in case AEA loses in court.
Stickland’s advice to California teachers: “Talk to every single CTA member and help them understand why it is important to have a strong voice in education. This is nothing more than another effort to rob every educator of the freedom of speech and the right to have a voice in political activities.”
South Carolina Education Association
“It’s not about special exemptions, it’s about stripping teachers of rights.”
“Do not let Prop. 32 pass,” warns Jackie B. Hicks, South Carolina Education Association president. “This is an overt attack to strip teachers of influence in their schools, district and at the state level. It will be very detrimental to teachers and students if this happens.”
“The hardest lesson we learned: Do not be complacent in the face of such attacks, and don’t accept their messaging of the intent of this act,” Hicks adds. “It’s not about special exemptions — it’s a ‘strip teachers of political power ’ act, and it works. That’s why they are doing it all over the country.”
In South Carolina, union dues have not been allowed to be taken by payroll deduction since 1984, and membership of teachers and classified employees has plummeted, along with political clout.
Washington Education Association
“It’s crucial to protect your right to be engaged in the democratic process.”
“Anti-union, anti-public education forces attacked us on the ballot nearly 20 years ago, and it has taken us a long time to rebuild our collective political voice,” says Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist.
“Speaking from experience, it’s crucial to protect the right of teachers and school employees to be engaged in the democratic process. Defend your right to advocate for your students, your profession and your families.” The WEA fought the paycheck deception measure approved by voters, but in 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, which resulted in PAC contributions shrinking by 75 percent within five years.
Related Tags: Volume 17 Issue 2, Educator Feature, Inside Educator, Educator, Campaign, Class size reduction, Election, Labor Issues, NEA, Union,