October 5, 2005

Taking the Initiative

Posted in General at 9:57 pm by Ian

It’s bordering on Election Time, and I just got my voter information packet in the mail. Since we have such good political discussions, I figured I’d go over what I think and see what others have to say. It looks like we have a number of initiatives this time.

I’m voting “no” on all of them. The ones I’m likely to be convinced otherwise on are 77 (Redistricting) and 80 (Something to do with electricity. If you can figure out what, exactly, you win a shiny nickel).



  1. Adam said,

    I’m with you on 80, quite incomprehensible. Though just looking at the people supporting the positions on each side of it it looks like the enviornmentally friendly vote is No (though each side naturally claim in its argument that it is in fact the better position on that issue). And given that my default vote on initiatives/propositions (whatever you call them down here) is to vote no, I’ll probably be with you on the “no” across the board.

  2. Ian said,

    And given that my default vote on initiatives/propositions (whatever you call them down here) is to vote no

    Given how hard it is to repeal or change initiative law, I tend to vote no on anything that isn’t immediately and obviously a good idea.

  3. Matt said,

    I think that No is a good default position on initiatives. I mean, as bad as legistators may be at making laws, I think that in general they are far, far better than some guy who isn’t even getting paid to write laws. Washington really got screwed over by some guy who went bonkers writing tax slashing initiatives, and now we have no money in the state coffers. For just about anything.

    There are apt to be good ones that come along, but they’d have to convince me pretty well. Say, I remember you mentioning that CA has some law where the legislature can’t overturn initiatives? Are they allowed to enact into law an initiative that fails, or can they do neither that nor overturn ones that pass? It seems like if they’re allowed to pass into law good initiatives that fail that No would be an even better default position.

  4. Ian said,

    The California Constitution requires that law passed by initiative can only be amended or repealed by initiative. As far as I know, there is nothing to keep the legislature from passing a law that does the same thing as an initiative that failed.

  5. Jon said,

    You should definitely vote yes on the one that lets workers decide whether they want their union money to go to political campaigns or not (prop 75). It’s ridiculous that as a teacher, I have to pay over $1,000 to union dues each year, and most of that money has absolutely nothing to do with my negotiations, but instead just goes to support whatever Democrat needs it that year. I am absolutely forced to pay that money, and once the leadership is elected (a decision I have to make about a person I have never met, know nothing about, and only have a 3 sentence personal statement to go on) I have no say at all as to where the money goes. Can’t I at least just have the option to say “Please don’t donate this money to your personal favorite congressman”?

  6. Ian said,

    According to the summary analysis of the initiative that the state of CA sent me, public employees have the option to join a union, and nonmembers of the union, while they may still be required to pay dues for negociation and representation, cannot be required to donate for political ends. So it looks like you already have the option.

  7. Jon said,

    If that option is available to me as a public school teacher, I have never been made aware of it or shown how I could go about doing it. I did not sign anything or fill out any forms making myself part of a union, yet the union dues have been taken from my paycheck every single year. Of the more than $1,000 that is taken out, about $800 goes straight to the CTA, which doesn’t have any negotiating responsibilities at all. I would be very surprised if there was any way I could recover that money or direct it elsewhere.

  8. Ian said,

    Here’s a link to the informational packet I was reading (warning: pdf). Under the paragraph titled “Use of Union Dues of Fees for Political Purposes”, it clearly states

    Any fees collected from a nonmember of a union cannot be used for these types of political purposes if the nonmember objects.

    Also, if you look at the personal affirmations in the In Favor section, you notice that they both claim to be happy members of the union who are dissatisfied that their union dues are used as such: In other words, they are a minority of the union that wants to have the voters of California do an end-run around the democratic processes and self-determination of the union itself.

  9. Dan said,

    Okay, someone has to stir this up.

    Why are you thinking of/going to vote against the parental notification of a minor having an abortion?

    Just curious… not intending to start a heated, man the battlestations, debate.

  10. Ian said,

    I am of the opinion that a law requiring parental notification of abortions will drive girls who rightfully fear their family’s reaction to seek unsafe abortions.

    I do believe that it would be best if teenagers consulted their parents before getting an abortion. I’m sure there are some who believe that their parents would not understand, but would receive important counsel. Let’s face it, a scared 16-year-old may not be making a rational decision. But I don’t think this law is the way to do it.

    I also think that laws like this are made simply to become Yet Another Barrier to Abortion by people who would like to outlaw all abortion, but can’t.

  11. Jon said,

    link didn’t work.

    But if it were true, how would you become a nonmember of the teacher’s union? I have never been given such an option. I have been told that you have to be a union member to be employed by the school, and I have never signed any forms or made any declarations that made me a union member apart from the regular employee contract.

  12. Ian said,

    Link still works for me. Perhaps someone else can confirm. Anyway, you can certainly get to the document by browsing from http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/, which is the CA Secretary of State’s website. And, if you’re registered to vote in CA, you should have gotten the same thing in the mail.

    I don’t know how it works. It wouldn’t surprise me if the union was in shady legal territory by trying to make it seem like you have to be a member. I’ll do a little research into it, but you’re probably a lot more motivated than I. I do know that the CA Secretary of State’s literature claims that it’s illegal to force you to be a member.

  13. Ian said,

    20 seconds of googling got me this, a press release about the legal decision against the San Diego Teacher’s Union on this very topic.

    Another minute got me a page detailing exactly how to resign from the union.

    Now, I don’t know how legit this National Right to Work group is, but there’s clearly something out there.

  14. Jon said,

    btw, there’s another facet to this too. My teacher’s union is not in line with the typical teacher union crap that goes on in california. In most districts and at the state level, teacher unions are probably the #2 reason that schools are failing (right behind incompetant administration). But ours is different. This was a blurb about us that’s accurate:

    “As part of a comprehensive strategy to drive change, Green Dot is practicing union reform with its teachers in hopes that it will help provide an example of cooperation in public education. Teachers at Green Dot’s schools have organized as the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos, which is its own bargaining unit, but an affiliate of the CTA. Green Dot management and the Asociacion signed a three year contract that is a clear example of union reform. Key reforms written into the contract and agreed to by the union were: no tenure, teacher performance evaluations, professional work days (no defined minutes) and flexibility to adjust the contract over time.”

    Our union works great – their agreements with our employer give us great pay and great benefits, allow us to make our own decisions and cause us to be treated like professionals. In turn, we work harder, actually get evaluated for our performance, and don’t get insanely high retirement benefits. So while the other public schools are staffed by a combination of incompetant old teachers making big bucks who are just waiting until retirement kicks in and unqualified new teachers who are underpaid and quit within five years, Animo schools are staffed with qualified teachers in their 20s and 30s who work hard to help kids, get pay that reflects that, and are staying in the profession. As a comparison, my old school in Inglewood Unified had 1/3 of its teachers quit at the end of last year, which is disturbing but not too far off of district averages for retention. At the same time, 2 of the 5 Animo schools retained 100% of their teachers.

    So why am I doing all this complaining if my union is so good and my employment situation is so eviable? Our union organizers are democratic activists, therefore, our union is a part of CTA. $200 of my paycheck goes to my union, and $800 goes to the CTA, which actually hates the positions that my union has negotiated. Since CTA has nothing to do with my negotiations, nothing to do with my retirement benefits, nothing to do with my workplace at all, those $800 dollars simply support the political agenda of the union organizers. And since political agenda is the main reason that anyone gets involved with these unions (trust me, no one whose primary focus is education would stop teaching to run these things), there’s almost no chance the situation is going to change. All I want is the chance for my money to not be part of the problem. I have never been given that chance.

  15. Jon said,

    wow – that court decision is extremely motivating to me. I am going to look into that immediately.

  16. Ian said,

    Jon, I sympathize with your plight, I just don’t think that this initiative is a good solution. There are, I’m sure, lots of minority groups within the union that don’t agree with all the things the union does. Why should this particular group get a special law passed that allows them to dictate how funds are used in this particular case? If, on the balance, you agree with the union, stay a member. If not, then resign. The way I read it, if you resigned, your local union still gets dues for bargaining, so they’re no worse off. You’d still be supporting the part of the organization that you agree with.

  17. Jon said,

    The part I don’t like about it is that I have to make the choice about both things at once. Unions have a purpose. Their purpose is to negotiate contracts and represent the workers before an employer. I don’t like the fact that unions have instead become powerful political groups throwing millions of dollars behind initiatives and campaigns.

    Imagine that there’s no political biases involved in your decision making and ask yourself the following question. Which situation do you think is preferable in our economic system:

    a) A system where unions represent the workers before employers, and also use employee contributions to affect the political process for the employees that consent.

    b) A system where unions represent the workers before employers, and force all employees to contribute hundreds of dollars each to political actions of the leaders choice, or the employees are kicked out of the union.

    Really, why is this even a question? Can you give me one logical reason why it is good for unions to be able to use union dues to make political decisions without any of the consent of the members?

  18. Jon said,

    I should add that it’s no small group. I have never, ever been allowed to have any vote as to how union dues were spent. I am given freedom to vote on contracts and on actions that are taken by the union (strikes and such). Why am I never even given a vote on political decisions?

    I can also mention that this is the very reason the AFL is falling apart.

  19. Ian said,

    The part I don’t like about it is that I have to make the choice about both things at once. Unions have a purpose. Their purpose is to negotiate contracts and represent the workers before an employer.

    Unions have several purposes. One of which is the negociation of contracts and the representation of the workers. Another reason is to lobby politically for better treatment for the industry. I have no doubt that, by making political donations, the union has as its goal the shaping of policy that will favor the union (which, I agree, is not necessarily the same thing as policy that will favor the worker members).

    In a representative democratic organization, you rarely get to have everything you want. I didn’t get to vote on how my tax money got spent this year, either, but I did get to vote for representatives to make those decisions. Just like you did as a member of the union.

    I should add that it’s no small group.

    I never said it was. I said it was a minority in the union. If it were a majority opinion, I find it hard to believe that not one of the candidates running for union leadership bothered to make it one of the issues they ran on.

    Can you give me one logical reason why it is good for unions to be able to use union dues to make political decisions without any of the consent of the members?

    A union is a volunatry organization of individuals for a (theoretically) common purpose. If the members feel that they no longer share that purpose, they can either work within the system to change it to what they’d like, or they can leave. As far as I’m concerned, the Union can spend all its money on caramel corn and blowjobs, and the government shouldn’t have any more say in it than they should in any other voluntary private arrangement.

    You mentioned political bias above, so I’ll comment on my perception of how it shapes this issue. It’s fairly obvious that the current rules favor certain Democrat political interests, and also fairly obvious that I tend to vote for Democrats. You’re welcome to accuse me of supporting the status quo out of a calculated desire to keep Democrats in power if that makes you feel better. But realize that the argument I’m making is a very libertarian/conservative one: That government should not go meddling in private affairs unless it has a compelling reason to do so. Now, those who are likely to gain politically from this change are traditionally the ones arguing for limited government intrusion. In fact, they’ve tried to frame the debate as such: “You should control your money.” But it’s not your money; it’s the union’s. If you want to control it, don’t give it to them in the first place. Do you really think that I’m the one being disingenuous out of political calculation?

  20. Ian said,

    I should clarify that by my last question, I didn’t mean to imply that you, Jon, were being disingenuous out of political calculation either. I meant that the monied interests that have supported the initiative are.

  21. Jon said,

    I don’t have political interest in this (I’ve given up on both parties and refuse to support any candidates for elected office from now on) but I do have side bias in that I believe that the CTA, ITA, and most other teacher unions are horrible for education and want anything to happen that will make them go down.

    That being said, this isn’t a private arrangement. I am a public employee. My money comes from public funds. If the union is a totally seperate private party that can do anything it wants, then:

    a) I should be able to enter a contract with my employer completely seperate from them.
    b) The default position should not be that I am a member of the union. Would it be okay if becoming a schoolteacher meant that I was by default a member of the Catholic Church unless I asked out? I should not have to act to not be a part of something I don’t want to be a part of.
    c) I should not have to pay any money to them at all. Even if I’m not a member, I still have to pay them for negotiating fees, grivance fees, and contract fees.
    d) They shouldn’t be able to garnish money directly out of my paycheck without my express permission. I’m not sure, but are there any other private entities that are allowed to do this?

    As far as people running to change the system…it’s not going to happen. If you polled all the teachers from the last 30 years, I think most would want significant changes to occur. But they can’t create the change at any one time because most of them have quit in frustration. Only two types of teachers tend to last in this system: the ones who are so good and so committed to teaching that they block out everything else, and the ones who don’t give a crap what happens and are in it for the money. No one dedicated to teaching would spend time playing the politics games it takes to work their way up to union leadership. And trust me, it is all politics games. There’s virtually no campaigning – you see a little bio and you vote. Most of the time you know so little the vote is almost random. The candidates who win are the ones who have the connections with the union reps at the various schools, who in turn tell the union-friendly people who to vote for. I saw this happen over and over again.

    as a totally irrelevant attack on teacher’s unions – I could never move into union leadership (even if I wanted to change the system or something) because I got blacklisted by my union rep. First, I defied the union’s orders to participate in a “semi-strike”. The “semi-strike” required that we refuse to participate in all activities outside of the regular school day: don’t show up to work early, don’t stay at work late, don’t tutor students, don’t coach, don’t organize the science fair, don’t attend any extracurricular activities, don’t spend any time outside of the required school day helping your kids. That’s right – hurting the kids is an actual union strategy, and I got hated on for opposing it. Secondly, I vocally opposed the union’s pick for the schoolboard. This was a man who had been demoted from his job as an administrator, and as payback claimed a false illness and took sick leave FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. Since we weren’t allowed to hire a teacher to replace him (he was still technically the teacher for that class and getting paid), the class was taught by substitutes for that entire year. The union handpicked him to run for schoolboard because they thought he’d done a great job of really attacking the superindendent’s power. They then put up posters all over Inglewood claiming he was the “teacher’s choice” (we didn’t vote on that, the union just decided it was so) and he won. Again, hurting the kids is a union strategy.

  22. Ian said,

    a) I should be able to enter a contract with my employer completely seperate from them.
    b) The default position should not be that I am a member of the union. Would it be okay if becoming a schoolteacher meant that I was by default a member of the Catholic Church unless I asked out? I should not have to act to not be a part of something I don’t want to be a part of.
    c) I should not have to pay any money to them at all. Even if I’m not a member, I still have to pay them for negotiating fees, grivance fees, and contract fees.
    d) They shouldn’t be able to garnish money directly out of my paycheck without my express permission. I’m not sure, but are there any other private entities that are allowed to do this?

    Those are good points. I’ve never liked mandatory unions. Of course, voting yes on this initiative wouldn’t actually fix any of those problems. It would weaken the union’s power, which might lead to a better system. I’m not sure I agree with that line of argument, though: 1) Unions do bad things 2) This will hurt the Union 3) Therefore this is a good idea.

    That other stuff sounds like bullshit. But bear in mind that the other side of hurting the kids as a negociating tactic is relying on the compassion of teachers for their students to bilk them out of what they’re worth. There’s no way to have nice fuzzy negociations with such emotionally involved work.

    Good for you for standing up for what you believe in.

    And it sounds to me like you’ve got all the makings of a good grassroots political movement on your hands. You are principled. You care about what you are doing. You are vocal about what you believe in and want to see things change for the better.

  23. Jon said,

    I agree that I am using that line of reasoning and that it is not a good one. But I think that there is a principled line of reasoning supporting me as well, being, “The union has more mandatory powers than it should, this reduces one of its mandatory powers, therefore it is a good idea.”

    I think good negociations are possible – our enlightened union partakes in them. The only way to do it is to start out with good material – if you start with good teachers, the initial union leadership is composed of good teachers, and they make decisions based on what is best for good teachers, not just what is best for old teachers who don’t want to do work. And if you are being employed by an organization that exists to give kids a good education, they will recognize when they’re dealing with good teachers, and listen and negotiate accordingly. That’s what’s happened in our organization’s first six years of existence, and I think that continued enlightenment is certainly possible, as the current policies make it very hard for incompetant or lazy teachers to infect the system.

    As far as the grassroots thing; I think the principles for the movement are there, and some have encouraged me to move into leadership in this arena. But I definitely am not made for that. I honestly don’t think I should ever be in charge of anything large – I would get myself all full of crap and become someone I wouldn’t like. The only way to combat my tendency towards intense pride and control is to remain in humble positions. I will let my voice me known from here and hopefully encourage the right person to start that movement. In a few years (hopefully three) I will pay off my loans and, God willing, move into some decrepit slum in some forgotten city and teach street kids how to read and do math. That’s where I belong.

  24. Ian said,

    But I think that there is a principled line of reasoning supporting me as well, being, “The union has more mandatory powers than it should, this reduces one of its mandatory powers, therefore it is a good idea.”

    But this isn’t one of the union’s mandatory powers.

  25. jon said,

    I think I lost track of what we meant by “mandatory powers”. If you get a job as a teacher, the union will garnish money from your paycheck and use it to fund political campaigns, without needing to ask for any of your input or even whether or not you want to part of the union in the first place. That is a power I do not think they should have.

    Secondly, the union can use your money for whatever they want, even just giving it straight to their favorite politicians, and do not have to ask any of their representitives if that’s where they want it to go. We must vote on whether we strike, we must vote on whether we accept a contract, but we never, ever get to vote to determine where our money goes. That’s another power that I do not think they should have.

    As far as I can determine, this measure will end these union powers (being able to garnish money for political campaigns straight from your paycheck without express permission, and being able to use your union dues for political purposes that you disagree with).

  26. Ian said,

    I’m have been persuaded that this is worth it because it makes de facto union membership opt-in rather than opt-out.

    Any bystanders remain unconvinced? Anyone want to convince me otherwise?

  27. jon said,

    Any bystanders actually still reading at this point? I’d be impressed.

    And I definitely want to commend you on committing the unimaginably rare internet sin of coming to a new conclusion online. An act that is very rarely seen, and commands respect.

  28. Ian said,

    Thanks. I was serious about looking for valid arguments in favor of any of the initiatives. I think you’ve provided one, so, barring another compelling argument or other information (I do still want to check that a substantial portion of public union members are auto-unionized without their explicit consent), you’ve got my vote.

  29. Kyle said,

    I’m a bystander still reading this. And I think you’ve swayed me too Jon.

  30. jon said,

    Yah – I can’t speak for a substantial number of public union members, just the last two teacher’s unions that I’ve been a member of.

    On a good note – there’s about to be a minor uprising against our liberal union leadership that I alluded to in an earlier comment. Apparently most of the faculty thinks that they’re doing a better job than the big unions, but haven’t gone far enough. Support of liberal political action and resistance to strict consequences for poor performance are the two big issues driving discontent. I told some other teachers about the process for getting out of the union and they were warm to the idea. I also signed a petition supporting the discontented teachers today, and already saw a very large number of teacher names on my list. I love my school!

  31. Ian said,


    I’m getting conflicting reports on how union membership happens originally. Are you sure you didn’t voluntarily join the union? Do you still have the papers you signed when you were hired?

    According to other public employees, there is a document that is presented to you to sign, and it includes a checkbox to not be part of the union.

    If that’s the case, I return to my original position, that joining the union is a choice that each member can make, and what the union does at that point is none of the state’s business.

  32. Ian said,

    Actually, I may have spoken too soon. Another person just posted and said that his union tried “very hard” to not tell people about the chance to opt out. So I’m again in wait-and-see mode.

  33. jon said,

    I don’t have copies so I can’t give you an absolute declaration in that respect. I didn’t mind joining my first teacher union (back in 2001) because I had no experience with their evilness yet. I would have been wary of joining the ITA back in 2002, but I never remember being given the opportunity to opt out. When I had to renew my contract the next year I definitely was not given that option. In the last contract I signed this summer, I was told how our union was different than the others, but I never saw any choice whether or not to join it and didn’t not sign any union document. When the issue was brought up in the teacher lounge recently there were several teachers who did not know that leaving the union was a possibility, and the ones who did know didn’t entirely understand how it was done.

  34. jdf said,

    As a passerby, a couple of thoughts:

    First, there’s a word for folks that come into a union shop and try to get union work without having to pay union dues. It’s not a very nice word, and such people should do their utmost to… not exist. The few perks that, for example, teachers get in our state are largely the result of union activity.

    As for the notion that people aren’t encouraged to not become full union members, I have limited to no sympathy. If the dues in question and how they are spent are a major concern to the individual, the individual can avail himself of a variety of information resources to find out that these particular dues are not mandatory. If it isn’t important enough to do a little homework on, it isn’t important at all. I would expect teachers to understand that.

    I also understand that in most areas in California, very few teachers actually seek to participate as union officers. Perhaps some day you could have a three-sentence description on a list somewhere and get to be the guy who decides where the union is putting its money. If you can’t do your homework or participate, perhaps you’ll end up with poor marks?

    Unions are extremely democratic organizations, where a handful of motivated individuals can help bring about some pretty big changes. As with any democratic organization, there is always the risk of the “tyranny of the majority” rearing its ugly head. I didn’t vote for a great many of the spending measures we have, should I get to opt-out of paying my taxes? Of course, I wouldn’t expect any but an extremely charismatic person to be able to talk a bunch of tenured teachers into lobbying for an abolition of tenure.

    As for getting out of your fees, pursuant to SB 1960 ( http://www.santarosa.edu/seiu/sb_1960_bill_20000929_chaptered.html ) and other union contracts; Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Assn./MEA/NEA; Apple v. CTA, Case no. 96 1904 K JFS (SD Cal. 1997) and prior U.S. Supreme Court precedents, non-union members do not have to pay a fee equal to the total union dues. The most they may be required to pay are fees that reimburse the union for what the union can prove it has spent for collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment. You can resign your membership with a quick note to

    CTA Membership Accounting
    P.O. Box 4178
    Burlingame, California 94011-4178


  35. Jon said,

    Wow – I like how he starts off the whole discussion by threatening me. I would love to pay union dues for union work – paying union dues for your pet interests is where the problem lies.

    The LA Times, a quite liberal-leaning newspaper, has endorsed Proposition 75. So take that.

  36. Ian said,

    I thought about responding to this comment, but decided against it because, as far as I can tell, when you remove the invective, he’s just making the same points that I already made and you already refuted.

    Good on the LA Times. Also, I was discussing this issue with a friend offline and convinced her to vote for 75 too. Thought you might be happy that all that arguing at least got you two votes.

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