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May 2018

 

Janus v. our students
Dante Morelli and Cynthia Eaton

 

  Mark Janus doesn't want to pay union dues
 

Mark Janus has stated publically that he is not anti-union; he simply does not want to have to pay dues. The above is an excerpt from an opinion piece he wrote for The Chicago Tribune in 2016.

Janus could really hurt our students.

Supreme Court cases feel like a contest between two opponents—in this case Mark Janus versus the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — but plenty of others stand to suffer the consequences of an adverse decision in this case.

Most disconcerting to us in the FA is how it stands to hurt our students.

What does Janus have to do with students? Put simply: Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. And students in right-to-work states tend not to perform as well.

The right-to-work connection

It’s no secret that the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is behind the Janus case. This group is providing pro bono legal representation to Mark Janus and has been sending solicitations across the nation for more support for their agenda. In fact, FA members—including one of our officers—recently received some of this mail.

Titled “End Union Control of Government,” it’s replete with loaded questions like “Do you agree that public sector forced unionism leads to lower quality public services as union bosses stonewall reform?” and “Do stories of politicians handing out sweetheart contracts to public sector union bosses and receiving millions of dollars in campaign support concern you?”

Such tactics by these anti-union right-to-work organizations are nothing new. They filled the mailboxes of union workers in Wisconsin when Act 10 passed in 2011, which stripped unions of their collective bargaining rights. Union members received postcards persuading them to no longer be members of the union since they could “give themselves a raise” by no longer paying dues.

Those so-called “raises” came with a heavy cost. After Act 10 passed, here’s what happened:

  • Teachers started paying 50 percent into retirement (prior to Act 10 they did not pay anything)
  • Healthcare deductibles skyrocketed
  • Median benefits fell by 18.6 percent
  • Average pay dropped 2.6 percent
  • Total compensation for teachers fell by $10,834.

To debilitate unions further, Wisconsin became an official right-to-work state in 2015. Since the passing of Act 10 in 2011 and right-to-work legislation in 2015, less than half of Wisconsin’s 464 school districts remained unionized.

Impact on students

Depending on how the justices decide, Janus v. AFSCME could be a nationwide Act 10 and right-to-work law, which would mean lower wages and benefits for all workers in public sector unions—and this brings very real consequences for students.

As happened in other right-to-work states, for example, Wisconsin experienced high-quality educators leaving the state, retiring, or shuffling between districts. This carries negative consequences for students, since research correlates teacher experience with higher test scores (a recent review of 30 studies indicates a positive correlation between teacher experience and student scores on standardized tests) as well as with reduced student absences.

Even Wisconsin’s school superintendents have had to acknowledge things are worse: “By a 10-point margin, school superintendents see a negative rather than positive effect on teaching quality from ‘free agency,’ retirements and other turnover,” notes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Conducting research for the Center for American Progress, David Madland and Alex Rowell document another way Wisconsin’s Act 10 prevents students from access to high-quality teachers: “…current research suggests that …rather than encouraging the best and brightest students to become teachers and to remain in the field throughout their career, the law appears to have had the opposite effect by devaluing teaching and driving many teachers out of Wisconsin’s public schools.”

Thus, an adverse decision in Janus, which could hit all unions in New York hard, negatively impacts our SCCC students in two ways: first, a poorer educational experience in K-12 would bring them to our doorstep in worse shape and, second, loss of our strong working conditions could leave us less able to best serve them.

We have been fighting for years for more full-time lines, so more of our capable adjuncts can more fully focus on their good work here rather than having to juggle multiple jobs. And we’re already feeling the effects of having about as few full-time classroom faculty lines as we had before the recession, which means our faculty are already getting spread thin from serving on numerous college and campus committees.

Without the FA, where would we be? Imagine a life after Janus that means we suddenly find ourselves without a contract. That means we would be without our course load and class size provisions, without funding for conference attendance or sabbaticals, without due process protections, without our valuable appendices on salary or academic freedom.

Rather than thinking of this Supreme Court case as only about Janus versus AFSCME, we need to be thinking deeply about who else will be challenged as a result of a bad decision. While we await the justices’ decision, we need to do the best thing possible for our students: sign the membership pledge cards and recommit to sticking with the union (in the local name field, just add our local's NYSUT affiliate number: 39-045).

You can also obtain a paper membership form by contacting Anita in the FA office by email (anita@fascc.org) or by phone (631-451-4151).