No Signicant Impact Seen for Teachers From Bush Order on Union Agency Fees
A drive by the Bush Administration to inform nonmember workers of their right to partial refunds of union "agency fees'' apparently will not have a major direct impact on teachers' unions, union officials said last week.
President Bush last week signed an executive order requiring that federal contractors post notices informing workers that nonmembers required to pay such fees to unions for representing them are entitled to prorated refunds of money used for political and other purposes.
In a speech announcing the new effort, Mr. Bush said his goal was "putting into effect new reforms that will protect Americans' fundamental rights against political abuse by special-interest groups.''
But Nancy Kochuk, a spokesman for the National Education Association, said that both members and nonmembers who are required to pay the teachers' union for representing them are already fully informed of their rights.
Ms. Kochuk said about 35,000 nonmembers pay agency fees to the N.E.A., and only about 5,000 of them usually demand refunds.
Still, a separate but related set of regulations that were to be released late last week by the Labor Department may require more specific public disclosure of expenditures than the teachers' unions currently provide.
Some observers suggest, moreover, that Mr. Bush's high-profile attention to the issue could cut all unions' political war chests by spurring more nonmembers to demand refunds.
"I would imagine that might be so,'' said Robert Rippinger, the director of the finance department of the American Federation of Teachers.
"It's bringing the issue to the public in a way that we can't,'' said Desiree Mabry, the assistant director of Educators Against Forced Unionism. "We're very excited about it.''
Although Mr. Bush implied in his speech that he was launching a sweeping initiative, the rights in question had already been established by U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the 1970's and 1980's.
Political Motives Seen
Critics charged that the true purpose of Mr. Bush's initiative was to please conservatives and to bash unions and impair their political influence, which is most often used to support Democratic candidates and liberal causes.
Unions are barred by law from using dues for direct contributions to candidates. But they do fund lobbying and political activity that is not aimed at particular candidates.
"The President hasn't shown any concern for the rights of workers and those who are unemployed,'' Albert Shanker, the president of the áŸæŸôŸ, said in a statement. "Instead, this executive order, which comes during a Presidential campaign, shows he is more interested in attacking a segment of the population that does not support him.''
The initiatives "will not have a tremendous effect on us,'' Mr. Shanker said. "But time and money that could better be spent on improving the working conditions of workers will now be spent on paper shuffling.''
The notification requirement may not apply to schools at all, since the executive order covers only federal contractors. That would include some educational-research centers and universities, but not schools, which receive outright grants.
A Labor Department official said, however, that the Administration may decide that grantees should also be included. Contractors and grantees are treated similarly under other employment rules, such as anti-drug requirements.
But teachers' unions are already required by legal precedent to inform nonmembers of their rights.
The rules requiring more specific reporting of union expenditures--together with upcoming rules for the National Labor Relations Board's enforcement of employee rights--have greater potential impact.
But labor-relations issues related to employees of state and local governments, such as public-schoolworkers, are specifically excluded from the jurisdiction of the N.L.R.B. by federal labor law, and are instead regulated by individual states.
Michael Simpson, a staff lawyer at the N.E.A., noted that about 30 states allow collective bargaining for public employees, and about 20 of those allow public-sector unions to negotiate agency-fee agreements under which nonmembers pay them for job-related representation.
Public-employee unions, such as teachers' unions, would be included in the proposed reporting requirements. But the teachers' unions already report much of the required information, since the legal precedents affecting them predate, and are more prescriptive than, those affecting most private-sector workers.
Court Backs Refunds
The earliest Supreme Court cases dealing with agency fees applied only to railway workers. In 1977, the Court established in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that teachers--and by extension, other public employees--had the same right as the railway workers to demand partial refunds of their fees.
Later cases, most notably Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, spelled out in more detail public-sector unions' obligation to fee-paying nonmembers.
"Hudson was much clearer about laying out enforcement requirements than the [Communications Workers of America v.] Beck decision was,'' explained Karl Gallant, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.
It is the High Court's 1988 decision in Beck that Mr. Bush said he wants to enforce. That ruling extended prorated-refund rights to private-sector workers covered by the National Labor Relations Act, and does not apply to public schools.
In complying with Hudson, the teachers' unions provide independently
audited, categorical breakdowns of expenditures by their national
organizations. State and local affiliates do the same with their own
Vol. 11, Issue 31, Page 29