so much for the labor union's funeral
by Dana Milbank, The Washington Post
Something funny happened on the way to the labor movement’s funeral.
When Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and his antilabor colleagues on the Supreme Court handed down the Janus v. AFSCME decision last June, unions braced for the worst. The American Federation of Teachers expected it might lose 30 percent of its revenue after the high court gave public-sector workers the right to be free riders, benefiting from union representation but paying nothing.
Instead, the 1.7 million-member union added 88,500 members since Janus — more than offsetting the 84,000 “agency-fee payers” it lost because of the Supreme Court ruling. And the union has had a burst of energy. There has been a surge of high-profile strikes by teachers’ unions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Rallies, pickets and local campaigns mushroomed by the hundreds. The union has tallied 11 organizing wins since Janus, tripled its “member engagement” budget from 2014 and nearly doubled the number of voters it contacted in 2018.
“Alito put his thumb on the scales of justice for the anti-union ideologues,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It was a wake-up call to everyone. Everybody got engaged.”
Labor leaders ought to thank Alito — and send chocolates to the Koch brothers for bankrolling the anti-union court case. Their brazen assault, combined with President Trump’s hostility toward labor, has generated a backlash, invigorating public-sector unions and making a case for the broader labor movement to return to its roots and embrace a more militant style.
Unions had become ossified, serving as member-service organizations that offered workplace representation and collective-bargaining assistance but not much fire. Now, the existential threat posed by Janus hasn’t materialized — membership has held steady — and, instead, has spurred a renewal of activism.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees feared it could lose 30 percent of its revenue. Instead, the AFSCME reports that for every member becoming a free rider since Janus, it has gained seven new members. It has continued to notch organizing wins (220 since July 2016, resulting in more than 22,000 newly organized members). It has also trained more than 25,000 activists over the past three years to spread the union gospel.
“Folks were writing our obituary. They thought this was going to be our death knell. They failed,” Lee Saunders, AFSCME’s president, crows. “They overreached. Now we’ve got the momentum. We’re organizing like never before.”
Back in February, when the case was argued, I suggested the justices beware the unintended consequences of their actions, lest they revive labor militancy. Alito expressed no such worry. In his scornful majority opinion that jettisoned decades of precedent, he dismissed the “loss of payments” that would be “unpleasant” for unions.
Now, in the wake of Janus, we see that there wasn’t as much anti-union sentiment in the workforce as right-wing groups supposed. Many of the agency-fee payers, the ones whose free speech was allegedly compromised because they were “forced to subsidize a union,” as Alito put it, have become full members of unions instead of quitting. AFSCME reports that 310,000 former agency-fee payers have converted to full membership since 2014. (The anti-union plaintiff in the AFSCME case, Mark Janus, who before the ruling said “I love my job,” quit his state-government job right after the decision and joined a conservative think tank.)
Rank-and-file members, meanwhile, perceiving the threat to the union, have become more aggressive in recruitment. Workplace units have organically launched everything from social media campaigns and town-hall meetings to civil disobedience and full-blown strikes. And union bosses (who had years to prepare while Janus and a predecessor case worked their way through the courts) redirected resources from member services toward organizing, engagement and high-impact community campaigns.
The overall result: Instead of the feared 30 percent drop in membership, public-sector unions held their own in 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. There was a total decline of just 83,000, or 0.7 percent.
Labor is still a long way from healthy, and more legal threats could blunt the renewed momentum. Lawsuits attempting to force unions to refund agency-fee payers retroactively could be ruinous. But the renewed energy following Janus points the way forward for labor: Success is to be found not in reinvention but in returning to its combative origins.
“The Koch brothers and their team . . . expected us to hide under the bed and shake in our shoes,” Lily Eskelen García, president of the National Education Association, tells me. Instead, “We stood up on soapboxes and stages and painted picket signs.”
The NEA had projected a loss of as many as 200,000 members, based on previous drop-membership campaigns. Instead, the 3 million-member union is actually up 13,935 members year over year — and the increase in membership among new teachers is particularly encouraging.
Credit the Kochs, and Alito, for that. Says García: “They shook us out of some complacency.”
NY legislators approve changes to appr; bill awaits governor's signature
ALBANY — State legislators approved a bill on Wednesday to alter New York’s teacher-evaluation process, continuing a fast pace set by the newly minted Democratic majority in the Senate.
Along with teacher evaluations, the Senate and the Assembly approved the so-called “Dream Act,” which would allow state college-aid programs to cover children of adults who are in the country illegally. The Senate also passed a measure Wednesday to make the state’s 2 percent property-tax cap permanent, but the Assembly hasn't approved it.
The teacher bill was not only a high-profile issue in the 2018 legislative session in Albany but also a factor in union campaign spending to successfully end Republican control of the Senate.
The bill would end the mandate that ties teacher evaluations to students’ scores on certain standardized tests. But even supporters acknowledged it doesn’t completely unlink exams and evaluations, leaving 50 percent of a teacher’s appraisal to some measure of student performance. That prompted some critics to say the bill would have little practical impact.
The exact measures would be a subject of school board and teachers’ union bargaining. Supporters said the bill, at minimum, puts the issue back in local officials’ hands. “We are returning evaluations to local control and saying the use of assessments will be best determined at the local level,” said Sen. Shelly Mayer (D-Yonkers), sponsor of the bill. At issue is a 2015 law, championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, that required 50 percent of teachers' annual job ratings to be based on their students’ test scores on state standardized tests. But the fact that half of an instructor’s appraisal will be based on some sort of test or assessment had some lawmakers grumbling that the bill was less than advertised.
“I liken it to the Charlie Brown cartoon where right as he is about to kick the ball, it gets taken away,” Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) said during the Assembly debate.
Others said any bill ending the link between assessments and evaluations would be likely to be vetoed by Cuomo. So they voted for this one, saying it’s the best practical step they could take.
“Let’s face it, if we completely repeal [the law], the governor will never stand for it and we could be moving on to something worse,” said Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Huntington).
Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) called the bill “making another mistake” and Sen. Robert Jackson (D- Bronx) vowed to introduce a bill to change the 50 percent requirement. But they voted for the bill.
The Senate approved it, 60-0; the Assembly, 125-6. Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Ra were the two Long Island representatives who opposed it. A Cuomo aide said the governor's budget proposal, unveiled last week, includes a teacher-evaluation initiative that matches the changes contained in the Senate-Assembly bill.
Andy Pallotta, head of the influential New York State United Teachers, referenced the 2018 elections in applauding legislators: “After some lawmakers turned their backs on New York teachers the last legislative session, our members stood up, raised our voices and sent them packing. Now, we have consensus on the need to x this system.”
A leader of the “opt-out” test boycott movement said the bill, if signed by Cuomo, would have little impact.
“This absolutely doesn’t remove standardized testing from the evaluation system,” said Jeanette Deutermann, of Bellmore, chief organizer of Long Island Opt Out, a regional network of parents and educators.
“We’re not saying it has to be absolutely removed, but 50 percent is absolutely too high,” she said.
The bill to make the state's 2 percent property-tax cap permanent sailed through the Senate, 59-2. There was virtually no debate, with only a few senators speaking in favor and voting quickly.
"The purpose of this bill is to give taxpayers some certainty," said Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), the bill's sponsor. He said the cap "isn't perfect" and his long-term goal is to boost state aid to schools "so as to reduce the reliance on the property tax, because it is regressive."
The Assembly had no immediate plans Wednesday to follow suit on the tax cap, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said it's not a sign the bill is dead. He said Democrats who control the chamber are discussing the proposal. Others suggested it could be lumped in with adoption of a state budget or changes in rent-control laws.
Cuomo successfully shepherded the tax cap through the legislature in 2011, his first year in office. It requires a 60 percent “supermajority” vote for any school district or local government board to raise annual property taxes more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The law does contain some exceptions for local economic growth that don’t count against the cap. Since its implementation, 2 percent overrides have been rare.
Rather than make it permanent, lawmakers have always renewed it a few years at a time. It is set to expire in 2020 but typically has been linked, for practical political purposes, with rent-control laws, which expire this year.
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One of GNTA's greatest strengths is the compassion, commitment, and dedication our membership demonstrates in their daily work with children and their families. As part of our LAP initiative we are interested in creating opportunities for members to engage in activities that support our values of equality, equity, and making a difference in the lives of others.
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Jennifer Snyder (Chair), Maddie Dressner, and Joan Petralia-Greenberg
BiG changes to empire plan in 2019
From the files of "don't shoot the messenger," The Empire Plan has adjusted some of the copay fees that we pay out-of-pocket, and raised the level of our combined annual deductibles. Happy New Year.
Some key changes to note:
In-network doctor's visit now has a $25 copay.
In-network urgent care visit now has a $30 copay.
Emergency Department visit now has a $100 copay.
Enrollee combined annual deductible $1250, per dependent.
Please read the bulletin below to find out all the details.
"TEACH" GRANT LOAN RELIEF AVAILABLE
If you’re an educator who had your federal TEACH Grant converted into an interest-bearing loan, you may be eligible for debt relief. The Education Department announced a plan in December to give teachers a second chance to have their loans converted back into grants if they can prove they met the program’s teaching requirements.
“What a relief,” said Morgan Jackson, a special education teacher in the Medina School District, who was slated to begin repaying nearly $17,400 in converted loans in January. After successfully submitting her TEACH Grant paperwork for the past two years, in June the Medina Teachers Association member was told her paperwork submission was one-day late, which automatically converted her grants to loans. Her requests for reconsideration fell on deaf ears.
“Thank you to everyone who spoke up and fought this battle,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”
Since it began in 2008, the TEACH Grant program has recruited talented educators into hard-to-fill jobs in lower-income school districts. But improperly filed paperwork left many participants deep in debt after their grants were converted into loans. A Department of Education audit found that more than 12,000 educators had their grants switched to loans due errors made by the company hired to manage the program.
TEACH Grants require educators to submit paperwork annually for four years certifying that they teach in a low-income school. However, the paperwork is notoriously confusing and if participants submitted it late, or had missing information, they saw their grants converted into loans.
For details, visit www.studentaid.gov/teach-reconsideration.
It's that time of year again, folks! Last year's Paint Nite fundraiser was a great success, raising $420 for the GNTA summer scholarship to help our students attend the districts summer programs. GNTA has, once again, teamed up with PaintNite.com to host our event, where $15 for every ticket sale will go to the scholarship.
Please join us for another fun-filled evening of libations and artistic endeavors on Wednesday, January 23rd at 7:00pm at K-Pacho in New Hyde Park. We will be raffling off a brand new commercial grade Keurig coffee system (K155)!!!
Seating is limited and on a first come, first serve basis. Please use the link below to register.
Thank you for your continued support!!!
EST. RANGE DOWN FOR FOR 2019-2020 ECR
Dinapoli: Tax cap set at 2 percent
Property tax levy growth for local governments with fiscal years that close on Dec. 31 will be capped at 2 percent for the 2019 fiscal year, according to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. This figure affects the tax cap calculations for all counties, towns, fire districts, 44 cities and 10 villages.
"For these local governments, allowable levy growth will be 2 percent for the first time since 2013," DiNapoli said. "Despite the possibility of increased tax revenue, municipal budgets will still be vulnerable to rising fixed costs and potential federal funding cuts. Local officials should proceed cautiously when crafting their spending plans for next year."
The tax cap, which first applied to local governments in 2012, limits tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2 percent with some exceptions, including a provision that allows municipalities to override the tax cap.
During the 2014 through 2018 fiscal years, municipalities with a fiscal year ending on Dec. 31 had their levy growth capped at less than 2 percent.
For a list of allowable levy growth factors for all local governments, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/realprop/pdf/inflation_allowablegrowthfactors.pdf
Find out how your government money is spent at Open Book New York. Track municipal spending, the state's 145,000 contracts, billions in state payments and public authority data. Visit the Reading Room for contract FOIL requests, bid protest decisions and commonly requested data.
7 Things to Know About the Supreme Court Decision That Just Slammed Teachers' Unions
The U.S. Supreme Court just dealt teachers' unions a heavy blow with a decision in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 case. Here's what you need to know:
1. The justices ruled to prohibit unions from charging nonmembers "agency" or "fair share" fees. Up until today, teachers' unions and other public-employee unions charged fees to employees who chose not to join the union but were still represented in collective bargaining. The union's argument for the fees was that nonmembers are still benefitting from collective bargaining, so they should have to pay something. The justices ruled that forcing employees to pay fees to a union they don't support is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
2. The justices also ruled that unions cannot deduct fees from employees' paychecks without their express consent. This part of the decision goes beyond what most court watchers were expecting, and it deepens the blow to unions. In some states, teachers have just a limited window of time in which they can tell their union they want to drop their membership. That rule would have been challenged in court had the Janusdecision not addressed it. But now, teachers will have to affirmatively opt into paying dues to the union.
3. The ruling was 5-4. Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Neil M. Gorsuch. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
4. Just about half the country will be affected by the Supreme Court decision. Here are the 22 states that allow unions to charge agency fees to nonmembers:
5. Teachers' unions are predicting sizeable membership losses. The National Education Association has projected a two-year loss of 307,000 members, which led officials to propose a $50 million budget cut (a 13 percent reduction from the current budget.) The American Federation of Teachers has declined to release its projections, but President Randi Weingarten has said it will be a "bumpy ride" for unions—but "not an existential threat" thanks to planning. It's worth noting that the percentage of public school teachers participating in unions has been declining steadily over the last two decades.
6. Unions will be taking their fight to the state legislatures. Already, Democratic lawmakers in about a half-dozen states have introduced or passed legislation that seeks to protect unions from the Supreme Court decision. For example, several states have enacted laws that require schools to allow teachers' unions to meet with new teachers, so labor representatives can pitch the unions' services. Other states, like New York, have specified what services unions are obligated to provide (or not provide) to nonmembers.
Now that the Supreme Court decision is out, we can expect more union-friendly bills to be proposed.
7. This ruling could make unions more responsive to their members. At least one analysis showed that when state unions lose the right to collect agency fees, representatives tend to do more outreach to teachers to convince them to join. Katharine Strunk, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, said unions might now shift their policy priorities to better reflect what their members want.
Teachers' unions have been working for the past year to engage their members and urge them to recommit. In an interview, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins said he plans to step up the union's efforts to reach out to nonmembers and connect with their values in the wake of the Janus ruling. "When you talk about values, ... that really transcends political lines and political ideology," he said.
Heins added that CTA will try to fight against what he expects to be an organized campaign to convince members to drop out of the union."Our work is very relational, it's all about our relationships [with members]," he said.
Check out our longer story on the ruling as well as all of Education Week's coverage leading up to the Janus decision. And stand by for continued updates as more analysis and reactions roll in.
This article was originally published in Education Week.
New Members: The Fall 2018 New Members Bulletin has been posted!
CALENDAR: The GNTA JANUARY Calendar has been posted!
BLOG: Read GNTA EB member Luci Legotti's NYSUT RA Report!
BLOG: NYSUT summer workshops open to GNTA members.
PAC/IOC: Photos and recollections from the first GNTA Color Day!
BLOG: The GNTA Celebrates its retirees at Westbury Manor!
BLOG: The Supreme Court just issued a blow to Workers' Rights, and no, this isn't the JANUS case.
CALENDAR: The GNTA June Calendar has been posted!
FORMS: GNTA Retiree/Para forms have been updated.
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