About five years ago, some of us were concerned about the Supreme Court of the United States as they considered the case Janus v. AFSCME. In brief, the concern was that since the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Supreme Court case permitted agency fees, and since most locals made their agency fee rate the same as their membership fee rate, a lot of union members were possibly only members since they had to pay either way. As we now know, Abood went away and our members didn’t. Only 73 of CCA’s roughly 11,000 members filed drop cards between June 2018 and November 2022.
While occasionally an anti-union group will send out postcards claiming that unions have no value and that you should not give them any money, I believe that my membership in CCA/CTA/NEA is possibly the best investment I’ve ever made. My union memberships cost a little over 1 percent of my salary, but according to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker covered by a union contract earns 10.2 percent more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same industry. In addition to better pay, 94 percent of union workers have access to employer-sponsored health care, as compared to just 68 percent of nonunion workers. Also, 93 percent of union members have a retirement plan at work, with a third of these having a defined benefit plan (i.e.: a traditional pension) and another third having a composite defined benefit/defined contribution plan. By comparison, only one in nine nonunion jobs includes any sort of defined benefit, and a third of nonunion workers have no retirement plan at all!
Going beyond salary, health insurance, and retirement, union workers are significantly more likely to have paid vacation days, paid sick leave and paid medical leave. They are significantly more likely to have a predicable schedule and are more likely to be aware of and pay attention to political issues. Union members generally have better job safety protections than nonunion workers, are less likely to be “at-will” employees and are more likely to have a grievance or appeal process if they are accused of wrongdoing.
There is also evidence that unions promote equity. The U.S. Department of Labor recently found that unionized women, whether white, Black, or Hispanic, had approximately the same average weekly earnings.
While a gender pay gap still exists in many places, it is usually much smaller in unionized positions. By being in a union, I can rely on my negotiating team to spend hours working on my contract, something I wouldn’t have time to do on my own. That contract will also be the same one for all the other teachers in my district.
While California’s laws currently provide us with a lot of protections thanks largely to past union work, laws can be changed and bills that cause said change pop up all the time. Right now, AB 739 and AB 1246 seek to make changes to California’s public pension systems. Although the two bills are currently “spot” bills that don’t do much, they can be significantly amended. With most teachers focusing on their job, their families, and their local situation, we need NEA to press for education in Washington D.C., and we need CTA working to improve working condition rules and school budgets in Sacramento. We need CCA to review all the higher education bill language, to advocate for faculty at the Chancellor’s Office, and to work with the other statewide faculty groups. We need our local’s negotiating team working on contractual improvements. There are people who want to harm public education and others who want to “fix” it, and our union is one of the very few ways we can stand together and have political relevance.
In March, I attended the NEA Higher Education Conference. I am aware that California’s faculty are in a comparatively good place. Only six states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington) have over 15 percent of their workers unionized. By comparison, eleven states have fewer than 5 percent of their workers unionized. Our union has won and defends higher wages, better benefits, a safer workplace and a pension-based retirement. That’s a really, really good investment.
As a final note, I’d like to remind you that the CCA Spring Conference will be held April 28 – 30 in Costa Mesa. This conference will include elections (including that of the president and vice president), awards, a business meeting, and both breakout and general sessions. If you are an official delegate from your college, we will cover all typical conference costs, including travel expenses and meals. Registration is now open at cca4us.org/conferences. I hope to see you there!