At a time when the present California budget crisis causes the California State University system (CSU) to institute steep tuition hikes, drastic restrictions in the number of students admitted, a hiring freeze, and forced non-paid furlough days for faculty and staff (resulting in a forced deduction in pay), is it equitable or honorable to force faculty and staff to contribute to political causes they find highly objectionable?
The question arises from the fact that the California Faculty Association (CFA) -- one of the largest academic unions in the nation, representing 23,000 faculty, counselors, librarians, and coaches on 23 campuses -- acts as an exclusive bargaining representative within CSU. Although 22 states have Right to Work laws to ensure that employees can decide whether to join or financially support a union, the other states, including California, require monthly union dues as a condition of employment when the union is deemed the exclusive bargaining representative. The dues are deducted from paychecks directly by the employer. The rationale is that those who gain from union bargaining vis-à-vis conditions of work, pay, and benefits should help pay for the union's efforts.
However, the CFA, similar to some other unions, uses some of the compulsory dues for purposes other than its legal mission of collective bargaining and representation of employees in work-related grievance suits. The union lobbies politically, donates to political campaigns, and issues political resolutions. One such egregious resolution was unanimously adopted on February 7, 2009 by the CFA Board of Directors. The resolution was entitled "CFA Call for a Halt to Violence Against All Civilians in Palestine and Israel" and had nothing to do with working conditions in California or education in general. Instead, the resolution expressed opinions about the behavior of a sovereign nation and a U.S. designated terrorist entity in the Middle East. The CFA General Assembly passed the resolution on April 4-5, 2009. Strangely, although now an official policy of the union, it is not listed with the CFA's other resolutions, but is buried on the page for the Peace and Justice Committee.
The resolution states seven propositions that form the basis for the actions recommended. The propositions include affirming a moral equivalence between Israel defending its citizens from missile attacks and Hamas firing missiles against Israeli civilians, a misstatement of the conditions in Gaza, an omission of the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of acts of terrorism, and a false charge against the U.S. of not seeking a just peace agreement.
The recommended actions are that the humanitarian and economic needs of the people of Gaza be addressed (ignoring the needs of the people of Israel) and requests that the U.S. initiate a new policy that addresses the needs of Palestinians, implying that the existing policy ignores Palestinians. Further, the CFA recommends using its own resources to promote educational programs. Given the false and incomplete "facts" used to support the resolution and the illogical reasoning used, one must conclude that further misuse of compulsory union dues will be devoted to even more political indoctrination.
The resolution was written by an ad hoc Peace and Justice Committee made up of five faculty members, who, under the rules for ad hoc committees, were not elected, but chosen by the California Faculty Association President, Lillian Taiz. Her choices were inexplicable since none of the members has any expertise in Middle East history or culture. Rather, the choices included professors of government, language, English, and occupational therapy. It is also baffling that not all of the participants are listed on the Peace and Justice page.
Investigative journalist Lee Kaplan was told during a phone interview with one of the committee members that Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History at California State Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo, played a major role in getting the resolution drafted and endorsed. Professor Foroohar, an expert on Latin America, is an ardent anti-Zionist and one of the founders of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. By openly advocating and organizing a boycott of all Israeli academics and cultural institutions, she violates core principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas affirmed by the Association of American University Professors.
The CFA's actions do not constitute an isolated event. A similar resolution has been passed by the California Federation of Teachers, which represents one hundred thousand teachers from kindergarten through the 12th grade, as well as lecturers and librarians at the ten campuses of the University of California.
The resolutions by the California Faculty Association and the California Federation of Teachers are scurrilous. A small group of activist faculty have used the unions to disseminate their own political opinions. They have violated the mission of their union and coerced thousands through forced collection of dues to support views contrary to their conscience.
However, the Supreme Court, in Communications Workers of America v Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988) and Lehnert v Ferns Faculty Association, 500 U.S. 507 (1991), ruled that under the First Amendment, no worker can be compelled to pay for political actions with which he disagrees. Therefore, those who object to a union's political activities must be allowed to pay reduced fees, called "financial core" or "agency" fees, that reflect only the union costs for collective bargaining and procedures for employment grievances.
By their actions, the unions have exposed themselves to counter-actions by outraged faculty. Since federal law states that "full" union membership cannot be required, those who are members can write to the union and resign, decline to pay full dues, and pay only the reduced "financial core" or "agency" fees that exclude expenses for lobbying and political actions. At a time of unprecedented government and personal financial crisis, the unions need to work for their constituents, not lose money and prestige by letting a few hijack and distort their efforts.
Leila Beckwith is Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles.