Education Week - July 18, 2018 - 11
ber not just to pay for that service,
but to be a part of that greater
During the conference, speakers
both warned educators of the threats
to come and relayed a defiant message of solidarity.
"We're up against something pretty
scary. Janus is the latest attack on our
unions, but this ain't our first rodeo,"
Eskelsen García told delegates. "We've
been under attack before. ... We don't
get scared, we get ready."
Part of the NEA's strategy, she
said, is to team up with the three
other major public-sector unions: the
American Federation of Teachers,
the American Federation of State,
County, and Municipal Employees,
and the Service Employees International Union. The four unions will
combine resources to organize and
engage their members, she said.
As a signal of that partnership,
AFT President Randi Weingarten
and AFSCME President Lee Saunders both addressed the NEA delegates. (Eskelsen García and the
other union heads were expected to
be at AFT's biennial convention last
"Together, we can accomplish what
is impossible for people to accomplish
alone," Weingarten said, adding that
unions are "really big targets because
the right wing and their allies want
us gone. They know we are the only
organized force that will challenge
their power in politics and the economy. ... Janus is both a challenge and
an opportunity. ... [It] has made us
stick together like never before."
The conference was also happening in the aftermath of six statewide
teacher strikes, walkouts, and largescale demonstrations that took place
this spring. That teacher activism,
which was spurred on by low wages
and cuts to school funding, energized
the crowd. Many delegates sported
buttons and T-shirts with the slogan
"Red for Ed," which had become a
rallying cry for protesting educators
in all of those states.
The NEA delegates voted on several
proposals that sought to strengthen
the union and support future activism. The most controversial measure
was a proposal by NEA leaders to create a new category of membership for
community allies, or friends of public
education. This would have allowed
non-educators to donate to the NEA's
political action committee, which only
members are allowed to do. The union
would have also been able to communicate directly with those allies about
While about 60 percent of delegates
voted for the proposal, it fell short of
the two-thirds majority vote needed
to pass. NEA leaders have already resubmitted the proposal for next year's
More Litigation to Come
As the conference was in its second
day, seven teachers in California filed
a class-action lawsuit seeking repayment of fees previously paid to their
union. This case is the ninth lawsuit
asking for back-fees that is pending
against an NEA state affiliate. Maryland, New Jersey, and Oklahoma are
among the other state affiliates facing these suits.
"This lawsuit is rooted in correcting a significant injustice," John
Bursch, the counsel to the California
plaintiffs, said in a statement. "Not
only were teachers deprived of their
First Amendment rights under the
unconstitutional agency-fee arrangement, but thousands of dollars were
taken from these teachers' paychecks.
This lawsuit seeks to recover the fees
these hardworking teachers were
forced to pay against their will."
The day before the suit was filed,
Alice O'Brien, the general counsel for
the NEA, warned delegates about the
next Supreme Court justice, because
that person could be on a court that
decides whether unions must repay
agency fees that were collected before
the Janus decision.
In an interview at the conference,
she said she didn't think the cases
had any merit, since the union is in
complete compliance with the Janus
"We are confident the court ultimately will reject claims that people
can go back in time," O'Brien said. "I
think there's going to be a lot of litigation around it. Our opponents ... will
continue to push these issues up to
the Supreme Court."
Visit the TEACHER BEAT blog, which
tracks news and trends on this
Emails, Ads Push
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
not looking out for teachers."
National unions and state affiliates have been quick to highlight that many of these organizations receive funding from
prominent conservative donors
and have ties to the Koch family
foundations, which have donated
millions of dollars to conservative and libertarian groups. The
Mackinac Center also receives
funding from the Dick and Betsy
DeVos Family Foundation, a philanthropic group started nearly
three decades ago by the nowU.S. secretary of education and
her husband. Unions argue that
these email and social-media
campaigns are designed to suppress workers' rights and benefit
But Patrick Wright, the Mackinac Center's vice president for
legal affairs, says that his organization is simply providing
teachers with the facts necessary
to make an informed choice.
"For years [workers] have been
forced to support speech that
they may not agree with, and we
want to let them know that they
have options," said Wright.
'Information About the Truth'
In a statement, Allen said she
hopes the ruling will present an opportunity for teachers' unions to "secure support for their work based not
on coercion, but on voluntary support
from those who truly believe in the ...
ideas, actions, and pronouncements
of any association to which they now
may truly choose to belong."
A 'Historic Day'
The case before the Supreme Court
was brought by Mark Janus, a child
support specialist with the Illinois
healthcare and family-services department. Backed by the National
Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Janus objected to a deduction
of $46 from his paycheck each month
for the service fee that goes to AFSCME and its state and local affiliates for collective bargaining.
He was in the courtroom and reacted calmly as he listened to Alito
deliver the opinion they had long
"It is a very historic day," said
Janus to reporters outside the court
after the ruling. "We now have 5 million public sector, non-union members who can make their own choice
whether they support the union."
William Messenger of the National
Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who argued the case for Janus,
said, "It's a great decision for worker
rights. It was everything we asked for.
Compulsory fees are unconstitutional.
And the opt-out issue was decided.
They can only take fees from employees with their affirmative consent."
The opt-out issue was set to be
challenged in court after the Janus
ruling came down. The Center for
Individual Rights, a libertarian law
Mark Janus stands
outside the Supreme
Court after it rules in
his favor in a case
right to collect fees
firm, had filed a lawsuit called Yohn
v. California Teachers Association,
which argues that teachers should
have to affirmatively opt into the
union, not opt out. The Janus opinion addresses all the concerns of the
case, so there's no need for it to go
any further, said CIR President Terence Pell.
There are at least 22 states authorizing agency fees, and public-employee unions in those states must
represent all workers in the bargaining unit, including for collective bargaining and grievances, regardless of
whether the workers join the union.
The 3 million-member NEA has
projected a loss of some 307,000
members over two years if the
Janus decision went against publicemployee unions, with an expected
$50 million two-year budget cut, or
Through its outreach project,
"My Pay, My Say," the Mackinac
Center is contacting teachers in
11 states. The group has filed requests under states' open records
laws to get union members' email
addresses, said Jarrett Skorup,
the organization's director of
marketing and communications.
"[Y]ou now have the right to
stop paying for activities you
don't support," read emails sent
to teachers in Massachusetts and
New York. The messages also
provide a link to a state-specific
Other organizations are planning to go door to door. The Freedom Foundation, a free-market
think tank in Washington state,
is preparing to send representatives to teachers' homes and
workplaces in California, Oregon, and Washington, said Jami
Lund, a labor policy specialist
with the group.
"All we have in our arsenal is
information about the truth,"
Lund said. "If [the union's] business model relies on compulsion,
then shame on them."
The teachers' unions are fighting back. Some state affiliates
of the National Education Association have already crafted
counter-messaging that focuses
on the Mackinac Center's connection to Secretary of Education
The New York State Unified
Teachers produced a video, "Say
No to Betsy," accusing DeVos'
"anti-union friends at the Mackinac Center" of a "massive effort
to undermine unions and public
schools to divide working people."
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten
has also highlighted the Mackinac Center's connection with the
DeVos Foundation on Twitter.
From 2001 through 2015, the
Dick and Betsy DeVos Family
Foundation donated $355,000 to
the Mackinac Center, according
to publicly available federal tax
forms. (DeVos has stepped away
from her duties at the foundation
since becoming secretary. Neither the foundation nor a spokeswoman at the U.S. Department
of Education responded to requests for comment.)
T he Freedom Foundation
and the Mackinac Center have
also both received contributions
from Donors Trust, a charitable
organization funded by conservative donors, including billionaire brothers Charles and David
"When educators are aware of
who's funding [these anti-union
campaigns], and what their
agendas are, then the charade of these emails falls away
pretty quickly," said Adam
Mendelson, a spokesman for
the Maryland State Education
Chapman, the teacher from
Massachusetts, thinks most
teachers will want to stay in the
union, but she is worried about
new teachers and people who
might want to save money.
"Their messaging is very savvy,
but I'm hoping that unions and
dedicated teachers will see beyond that," she said.
'Totally Unwanted' Messages
Some school districts are taking
steps to stem the flow of these messages. In Anne Arundel County,
Md., the school system blocked optout emails after the state union
alerted the district that teachers
were receiving them, said Bob
Mosier, a spokesman for the district.
The emails note clearly that
they are commercial messages,
which the district blocks as a rule.
Teachers "shouldn't have to wade
through the electronic equivalent
of junk mail," he said.
Several state officials are also
trying to prevent anti-union groups
from collecting teachers' contact information after the Janus decision.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York,
a Democrat, signed an executive
order preventing state entities from
disclosing the home addresses,
email addresses, and phone numbers of public employees, which includes teachers.
Gary Brennan, a social studies
teacher in Frederick County, Md.,
says he hopes more school districts
take these steps. Communication
from these groups is "just totally
unwanted," said Brennan, a union
member for 32 years. "We have a lot
of work to do. We don't have time to
be sorting through false information from partisan groups."
EDUCATION WEEK | July 18, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 11