|She thinks she's Che Guevara|
The rationale for the agency fee is that nonmember employees benefit from the union's collective bargaining, and were they not to pay an amount equal to the dues, they would be free riders. In the 1977 case that has governed agency fee arrangements, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that agency fees are legal, but the union must be willing to refund the proportion of dues spent on political lobbying unrelated to bargaining activities. The reason is that violently coercing nonmembers to support lobbying with which they don't agree violates their freedom of speech.
But what if a union spends little time on collective bargaining and other workplace-related activities so that all dues either are for unrelated lobbying or are otherwise unrelated to improving working conditions? That has to be the case with the CUNY faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), because it contributes nothing to my wages. I earn less than I would in a nonunion environment. Hence, the Abood claim that I would be a free rider were I to not join my union is nonsensical.
In the recent Harris v. Quinn case, the court has raised the question as to whether agency fees can ever not involve violations of agency fee payers' First Amendment free speech rights. The reasons are manifold: It is difficult to extricate political from other activities; unions lie about how much they spend on politics; ultimately, all public sector union activity may be political.
In the case of Seidemann v. Bowen (also here) decided in 2009, Brooklyn College geology professor David Seidemann sued to determine the actual amount of dues that the PSC spends on political activity. The union repeatedly lied about the amount; initially, they claimed less than one percent, yet the case was settled at a point at which Seidemann and his pro bono Jones Day attorney had determined that they spend 14%. Seidemann believes that the true amount is closer to 20%, but the cost of further pursuing the case has been prohibitive. Part of the settlement was that the union paid $250,000 in legal fees to Jones Day. Few foundations can afford that kind of money for a venture with an ambiguous outcome.
As left-wing extremists led by President Barbara Bowen, an authoritarian, left-wing kook who thinks she's Che Guevara, the union leadership thinks little about using government-enforced violence to coerce dues money from faculty who do not agree with them. They have repeatedly refused to represent faculty with whom they disagree, and they chiefly support the left-wing Working Families Party, a simple-minded band of economic illiterates who favor failed, reactionary, big-government solutions. In choosing to openly affiliate itself with and pay the lion's share of campaign contributions to a third party, the PSC has ensured that conservative Democrats and Republicans will have little interest in supporting its cause.
The union serves as a conduit of tax-favored money from the taxpayers to the fringe left. Public money is budgeted to CUNY and used for faculty salaries; as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization CUNY pays no taxes; faculty dues are collected on a tax-deductible basis; the union does not pay taxes, and as a 501(c)(5) tax-exempt organization, it donates the dues tax free to the Working Families Party, likely claiming that all of the issues it lobbies about are related to its purpose, which is what 501(c)(5) requires. That, of course, is nonsense.
The June 19, 2014 minutes of the Delegates Assembly of the Professional Staff Congress states that the assembly resolved that the ROTC should not be institutionalized at CUNY. It spent much of its time discussing how situations in which it, and the American Federation of Teachers, to whom it contributes, should coordinate situations in which the two organizations make donations to different candidates. It also passed a resolution favoring restitution of pensions to Detroit municipal employees. It also developed a foreign policy. Its resolution says this:
Resolved, the AFT concur with the AFL-CIO National Executive Committee, which declared in August 2011: 'The miliatarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home,' and that the AFT call for funds freed by reductions in military and national security spending to be reallocated to many urgent human needs; and
Resolved, that the AFT call for US foreign policy regarding international conflicts to be guided by strategies that prioritize the needs of working people everywhere and the use of negotiation and diplomatic means over military deployment, whether in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Pakistan, or other 'hot-spots' as they may emerge...
In addition, it passed resolutions concerning the legacy of slavery, the Mayday$5K national movement for slavery, and Coca Cola's abuse of children and violation of human rights. Coca Cola's exploits overseas are indubitably within the purpose of a New York faculty union. Obama says so, for why should the PSC pay taxes if Tony Rezko and Timothy Geithner didn't?
In addition, about 5% of the minutes describe a collective bargaining update in which Bowen describes two contract settlements at the UFT and TWU. The minutes do not explain why CUNY has not drawn up a contract with its faculty since 2007, nor do I sense from the minutes that they care.
The question the Supreme Court should have raised and didn't is whether public sector unions serve as scams to avoid income taxes on contributions to left-wing Democrats, the Working Families Party, and other left-wing causes.