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August 29, 2014

When Being “Fair” Isn’t

Cindy A. Rose

Let me start with a disclaimer. If the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision shouldn’t have conferred the rights of “individuals” to corporation, then unions don’t get the rights of “individuals” either.


When I speak of the teachers “union,” I speak of the machine, not the teachers. It’s fun to twist around, but that doesn’t make is so.


You may be aware the State of Maryland recently passed a law extending the 2009 Fair Share Act to cover teacher unions. Basically, it says teacher unions in this state may collect a fee from non-union members “if they want to.” It’s up to the union.


Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) has decided they want this money. Frederick County Public Schools reports that FCTA will soon get an extra $295,935 from the non-union members under this law.


Remember I said this is because of the Fair Share Act? Apparently fairly sharing isn’t multi-directional with our local teachers union.


I recently inquired of both Gary Brennan and FCTA-endorsed Board of Education candidate Elizabeth Barrett why the teachers union doesn’t pay for the use of FCPS provided services like the courier service and the union dues payroll deduction and disbursement service.


Mr. Brennan’s response: “… the answer to your questions is no, we are not going to change the current business arrangements we have with our members’ employer and the employer we have the legal and contractual right to conduct business with. These arrangements were made between the two parties for the good of FCPS employees and the school system as their employer. Just because you want it to change does not mean it is going to.”


Ms. Barrett’s response: “Nearly 90 percent of eligible staff have voluntarily joined the Frederick County Teachers Association. A modern and effective workplace uses auto-debit for withdrawals for health insurance, etc. Providing a cost-free or inexpensive way for our employees to have their dues deducted or to communicate with FCTA is a good business and human resources practice. To be clear, FCTA matters belong to their members and their leadership. I'm running for BOE to focus on better policy, not small operational minutiae better left to the experts who work on the HR or payroll staffs. The Fair Share law that will go into effect next year will require some contributions from staff who are not FCTA members. That's a piece of state legislation”


One of Mr. Brennan’s arguments supporting the Fair Share Act is that the non-union teachers were getting a benefit they weren’t paying for. Isn’t FCTA getting benefits it isn’t paying for?


If you Google the costs for a courier service, at the base level, it’s about $76,000 per year. If the Frederick County Teachers Association had to pay to collect its own dues, a rough estimate would be $200,000 per year. It would have to create accounting, hire staff and pay them to collect money from several thousand dues payers. That doesn’t account for attorney’s fees for those unwilling to pay voluntarily.


Mr. Brennan further argues it doesn’t cost Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) extra money to perform those services on behalf of the FCTA. Isn’t that true of the non-union-member teachers as well? It isn’t costing FCTA any more money during the negotiating process to include non-union members.


Even when I asked Mr. Brennan what was fair about FCTA getting freebies while FCPS students have to pay $90 in sports participation fees, he was unwavering.


Some of you may be scratching your heads wondering why I’ve pulled Ms. Barrett into this column. Ms. Barrett is the union’s top vote getter in this year’s primary election for the Frederick County Board of Education. I want people voting for her to be aware how firmly she stands with the union. Frankly, calling a negotiating point in a contract “minutia” is concerning; she should care about it. Not caring about it is what has grown the budget.


Mr. Brennan accuses me of an anti-union agenda; my agenda is pro-student.


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