Back in 1998-99 I taught 2 for-credit classes at Northern Essex Community College. I don’t remember all the details here, but most of it is clear. The first course was a 1 credit Intro to Computers class and the second was a 3 credit Intro to MS Office class. I enjoyed the act of teaching and even contemplated teaching full time as an adjunct for a while. But those plans were quickly squashed, not by me, but the MTA.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is one of the most powerful unions in the country and certainly in the Commonwealth. I am not very versed on union shop rules yet I absolutely hate the notion of unions in general and remember wanting to strategize on eliminating them when I was in college.
As a condition of teaching as an adjunct, I had to pay union dues and if I elected not to join the union, I still pay “agency” fees. The thinking is that I am still benefiting from the negotiating practices of the union. While I fundamentally hate all of this, I could accept it. My problem was with the fees themselves.
I didn’t earn much as an adjunct, maybe $1,100 per credit. For me it was about the experience. But I remember that the fees were outrageous. I want to say that it was near $200 to pay these agency fees annually, no matter what you made. I don’t remember working it all out but if I remember that if I worked full time as an adjunct I was paying 2% of my income for the union to negotiate my 3% annual raise. That’s a 1% net increase or less than the rate of inflation. Whatever the fee, I refused to pay it.
And so after the first semester I got a warning letter, and after the second semester I got a letter that I would not be allowed to teach again. I was blacklisted. I wrote letters back and even to the school newspaper, ‘we give them 2% to get 3% which means that our net raise is less than inflation? The MTA is making us teachers lose money?’
California teachers to the rescue. A group of teachers felt the same way about the obligation to pay agency fees and so they filed a lawsuit. That case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was granted cert on June 30, 2015 and just last month on Jan 11, 2016 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. The question aims to resolve if Abood v Detroit Board of Education should be overturned. Abood certifies the union shop clause at public colleges.
I listened to most of the oral arguments and have a feeling this will be a 6:3 vote against the petitioners, who lost in the lower courts because of the Abood precedent. People complain about the Robert’s court because of warped commentary about a very select group of controversial cases, but overall this court takes stare decisis (legal precedent) very seriously. So while I have hopes for legal vindication such that I can petition the MTA to restore my good name, I do not have much hope. Stay tuned to the court, maybe they will overturn this insane government imposed bureaucracy and I could teach again in the Bay State. Not sure which is scarier, my good name, or me teaching?
6/28/18 UPDATE: Friedrichs ended 4:4 because of the death of Justice Scalia. However, enter Janus v AFSCME. Justice Kennedy in his final opinion, found that public sector unions could NOT force employees to pay union dues even if they were not members as this infringed on their 1st amendment rights because Unions engage in political activities supporting candidates and positions. Hooyah SCOTUS!