Given the myriad challenges facing Louisiana these days, it’s clear we need a bold, forward-looking leader fighting for us in the United States Senate. Apparently, LFT believes that no one embodies bold, forward-looking leadership like a 69 year-old white man who has held elected office longer than I’ve been alive.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: After weeks of speculation (OK, not so much), the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) formally endorsed Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in his bid for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
Last fall, Senator David Vitter announced he would not seek reelection after losing the Governor’s race to John Bel Edwards. In the interim, Campbell and two dozen other candidates have jumped into the race to claim Vitter’s seat.
Still, LFT’s endorsement of Campbell ranks among the least surprising announcements of the 2016 election cycle. As political scientist Joshua Stockley told the Southern Political Report, Campbell “is from the old guard of the Louisiana Democratic Party.” Thus, he’s a natural fit for an old school constituency like the teachers unions.
Moreover, as I revealed earlier this spring, the state’s two teachers unions have given Campbell more campaign cash (about $18,500 as of April) than any other politician in office. Plus, Campbell received an early endorsement from Governor Edwards, a long-time ally of both LFT and the Louisiana Association of Educators.
— Foster Campbell (@CampbellforLa) September 7, 2016
Whether expected or not, Campbell’s campaign seemed genuinely excited to have LFT’s backing – so much so, in fact, that they repeatedly exaggerated the union’s membership numbers when announcing the endorsement. For example, although a campaign press release claimed that Campbell had “earned the support of the 20,000 member Louisiana Federation of Teachers,” an LFT report filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics in February stated that the union had only 12,000 members.1
Competing Endorsements Point to Divide
In any case, LFT’s support for Campbell highlights a growing divide among Louisiana Democrats over education policy. Just two weeks ago, Democrats For Education Reform Louisiana (DFER) officially backed one of Foster Campbell’s opponents, fellow Democrat Caroline Fayard.
“I am confident that Caroline Fayard will support high quality public school options, including charter schools. Caroline recognizes the impact these options have on our most vulnerable children and it’s essential that Louisiana’s next Senator fights for education excellence as a top priority.”
It was one of several endorsements that Fayard has received thus far in the campaign. In addition to DFER, the 37-year old New Orleans attorney has been backed by the Alliance for Good Government, the Independent Women’s Organization of New Orleans, and legendary Democratic strategist, James Carville.
When asked about the endorsement, Wray described DFER as “an AstroTurf education group that proposes unaccountable vouchers and charter schools that make profits off our kids.” She also insinuated that Senator Landrieu, who represented Louisiana in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, lacked influence, stating: “I would never say that the Senator’s work and her opinion don’t matter, but what I would say that it’s not going to be enough to make Ms. Fayard competitive enough to get to a runoff.”
Not only did Wray insult Senator Landrieu, but she distorted DFER’s positions. The organization has never taken a position supporting vouchers. Instead, DFER works to ensure that all children in Louisiana have access to high-quality public schools – both charter and traditional – by supporting common sense education reform policies.
Ironically, Wray previously served as LFT’s legislative director, spearheading the union’s failed attempts to block charter school expansion and water-down accountability standards in Baton Rouge. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that her comments on DFER come straight from teachers unions’ talking points, which characterize those who disagree with them on education as profit-seeking privatizers.
Unfortunately for Wray and her friends at LFT, their rhetoric hasn’t worked. This past fall, nearly every union-backed candidate for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) went down in defeat. Instead, reformers won seven out of the eight elected seats on the board, including two Democrats – Jada Lewis and Kira Orange Jones – who were supported by DFER.
Furthermore, the election of long-time reform opponent John Bel Edwards as Governor has done little to turn the tide in their favor. While LFT and LAE strongly backed Edwards’ gubernatorial campaign, they currently have little to show for it. When Edwards sought to repay the favor by pushing the unions’ agenda in the Legislature this spring, most of his education proposals died in committee. As the Times-Picayune noted, “Edwards hasn’t been able to get much of his agenda through the Republican-dominated Legislature…and nowhere is this more apparent than with K-12 education issues.”
The Choice For LaDemos: Forward or Backward?
In a sense, Campbell and Fayard represent two competing visions for LaDemos: One that clings desperately to old ideas and alliances with interest groups like the teachers unions vs. one that embraces a new path while staying true to the core values of the Democratic Party.
If Louisiana Democrats hope to build upon Governor Edwards’ victory going forward, they need to jettison their old ways and support a new generation of leaders like Caroline Fayard who can lead the party into a brighter (and bluer) future.
Caroline Fayard is running for the United States Senate because career politicians have failed us and only a new generation of leadership can help move Louisiana forward. Find out more about her campaign.
After Janus, The Drought? LAE & LFT are downplaying the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, but both are subsidized by their national unions
The United States Supreme Court handed public sector unions – including the teachers unions – a major defeat on Wednesday with their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which a majority of justices agreed that mandatory agency fee laws violate the First Amendment rights of non-union public employees.
In the 21 states with agency fee laws, public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements were required to pay fees to the union to cover bargaining costs, even if they refused to join. Because agency fees only offered a small discount when compared to union dues, many individuals felt compelled to become members.
Now that the Supreme Court has struck down those laws, many observers expect that public sector unions will lose anywhere from 10-30% of their members, and by extension, a big chunk of their revenues. In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García admitted her union expects to lose at least 200,000 members over the next 18 months, depriving them of around $28 million in funding.
What about Louisiana?
Louisiana, of course, is a right-to-work state, meaning that public sector unions here are unlikely to see a drop in their membership, but the Janus decision could have a significant financial impact on the state’s two teachers unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).
In an article in The Advocate on Wednesday, officials from LAE and LFT sought to downplay the potential fallout from the ruling, insisting that any impact on their organizations would be minimal. They also wildly exaggerated the size of their respective unions, with both LAE and LFT claiming around 20,000 members.
Mike Antonucci, a researcher who has been writing about teachers unions for decades, released figures on Wednesday showing that LAE had 10,461 members in 2016-17, of which only 9,416 were full dues-paying members. While precise numbers are not available for LFT, data from tax filings and public records requests show that the union receives far less in dues payments than their counterparts at LAE, while charging their members more on an annual basis. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that LFT is even smaller than LAE’s 10,000 members.
Those tax filings, along with annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, also reveal that both LAE and LFT are heavily subsidized by their national unions. According to tax returns, LAE reported $3,291,199 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, although Department of Labor reports show that nearly 30% of that money came from the National Education Association.
Likewise, LFT reported $1,809,239 in revenue in F.Y. 2016, but nearly 27% of that total came from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Moreover, as I’ve noted in previous posts, AFT also provides substantial funding to its local affiliates, like the United Teachers of New Orleans, Jefferson Federation of Teachers, and Red River United.
Will the money dry up?
Up to now, LAE and LFT could depend on their national unions to provide a substantial portion of their annual budgets, but the Supreme Court’s decision this week means that steady stream of funding could begin to dry up in the not-too-distant future. While It’s unlikely that AFT and NEA will completely cut-off subsidies to their affiliates in right-to-work states like Louisiana, there’s no escaping the fact that there will be less money to go around.
How that will ultimately impact the activities of Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Federation of Teachers is yet to be seen.
The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in
Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.
A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.
The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.
An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”
“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”
Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.
A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response
Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.
To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.
Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.
So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.
Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.
I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.
Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.
Read Red River United’s membership form:
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