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Antonucci: How many new teachers are joining the California Teachers Association?

Mike Antonucci | October 23, 2018

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

Long before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME, public employee unions in California anticipated the loss of agency fees. Last year they persuaded the state legislature to pass Assembly Bill 119, which gave unions mandatory access to new employee orientations and required public employers to provide unions with each employee’s personal contact information.

Now that we are well into the school year, we have some preliminary impressions about how the California Teachers Association has put that access to use. I have obtained reports from scores of CTA local affiliates detailing their efforts to recruit new members at school district orientations and their relative success at the task.

The reports do have quite a few limitations. CTA has 1,100 local affiliates, but there are only 101 reports with hard numbers. Others provided no information on how many new members signed up. Also, there are no reports from CTA’s largest locals, such as United Teachers Los Angeles, United Educators of San Francisco, or the San Diego Education Association.

In short, the information provides a sample of CTA’s gains, but not necessarily a representative sample.

Of the 101 local affiliates that provided numbers, 33 did so in the form of percentages; that is, they did not report the number of new hires who signed up as members, but only the percentage of them that did so. Of those 33 affiliates, 25 reported 100 percent of new hires signed up as members, including locals in Beverly Hills and Oxnard. The lowest percentage reported was 80 percent by locals in Dublin, Kings Canyon and the combined totals of seven locals in the Merced-Mariposa area.

The average new member percentage reported was 97.3 percent.

The picture was less rosy among the 68 locals that reported exact numbers. Some of these also signed up every new hire, such as locals in Santa Clara (68 of 68) and Rialto (45 of 45). Others had difficulties. The local in Folsom-Cordova recruited only 59 of 112 new hires, while the teacher union in Lucia Mar Unified signed up 35 of 64.

Of the “exact number” group, the union was able to recruit 2,247 members out of a pool of 2,719 new hires (82.6 percent).

Recruitment techniques varied, but most locals provided gifts, lunch or goody bags to the new teachers. One took them on a bus tour of the city. Some of the “sales pitches” were brief and to the point. Others lasted for more than an hour and included a hard sell. One local assigned two “buddies” to each new hire who engaged him or her in discussions about the benefits of joining the union.

More concerning was a method used in Barstow. The union presenter persuaded five teachers to join “by pointing out they could opt out of dues going to political action.”

I don’t know how much detail the union provided to those teachers, but that option pertains only to the amount that goes to the union’s candidate political action committee. I doubt they were informed that they will still pay for lobbying, independent expenditures, issue advertising, ballot initiative campaigns, rallies, protests, and endorsements.

How to judge CTA’s efforts depends on what perspective you take. The number of locals reporting 100 percent membership is certainly a positive sign. But before the Janus ruling, the union collected agency fees from about 4.2 percent of its K-12 bargaining unit employees. That means even if it now recruits 96 percent of a K-12 unit, it is still lagging financially because the other 4 percent are paying nothing at all.

With restricted opt-out windows, the work of evaluating the effects of the loss of agency fees on California’s public employee unions will likely take many years, with a dearth of hard numbers, and these unveiled infrequently. Still, such a huge change in the conduct of union operations is worth detailed examination for its ultimate effect on public policy.

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