Monday, January 11, 2016

Mandatory union fees getting hard look by Supreme Court

Harlan Elrich is a high school teacher in California, and that means he must pay about $970 a year to a labor union. He teaches math, and he said the system did not add up.

“I get to choose what movie I want to go see,” Elrich said. “I get to choose what church I want to go to. I get to choose what gym I want to join.”

He should have the same choice, he said, about whether to support a union.

Elrich and nine other California teachers have sued the union, saying that they are being forced to pay money to support positions with which they disagree, in violation of the First Amendment. Their lawsuit, if it is successful, will be the culmination of a decades-long legal campaign to undermine public unions.

And there is good reason to think they will win. The Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in the case on Monday, has twice suggested that the First Amendment bars forcing government workers to make payments to unions.

“Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority in 2012 in one of the cases. Inviting a fresh legal challenge, he wrote, “We do not revisit today whether the court’s former cases have given adequate recognition to the critical First Amendment rights at stake.”

The new case is that challenge. The court’s decision, expected by June, will affect millions of government workers of all kinds and may deal a sharp financial and political blow to public unions. (The ruling is unlikely to have a direct impact on unionized employees of private businesses, as the First Amendment restricts government action and not private conduct.)

“It’s scary,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former AFL-CIO political director, noting that “most of the growth in the labor movement over the last few decades has been in the public sector.”

“It’s part of a concerted effort trying to dismantle the labor movement and to weaken worker’s rights in this country,” he added. “At the same that we are facing a near crisis in the elimination of the middle class, people are also trying to destroy one of the main vehicles to the middle class.”

Limiting the power of public unions has long been a goal of conservative groups, and some California teachers detected a political agenda in Elrich’s suit, which was organized by the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian group partly financed by conservative foundations.

“It’s corporate special interests that are backing this,” said Reagan Duncan, a first-grade teacher in Vista, California. The core issue in the case is not free speech but basic fairness, she said, arguing that Elrich and the other plaintiffs sought to take a free ride on the union’s work, which includes negotiating for higher wages and better benefits for all workers.

“It’s not right for some people to get union benefits for free while others have to pay,” she said. “If I went to a grocery store, I wouldn’t walk out with my groceries and not pay while the guy behind me had to pay for my groceries and his groceries.”

Elrich said he could do fine without the union’s help. “I can negotiate for myself,” he said. “I’m a good teacher, highly respected, and I can go anywhere.”

Under California law, which is similar to ones in more than 20 other states, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a “fair share service fee,” also known as an agency fee, which is typically equivalent to members’ dues. The fees, the law says, are meant to pay for collective bargaining activities, including “the cost of lobbying activities.”

Such fees are constitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. “To compel employees financially to support their collective-bargaining representative has an impact upon their First Amendment interests,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote for the majority. But, he wrote, “such interference as exists is constitutionally justified” to prevent freeloading and to ensure “labor peace.”

What crossed a constitutional line, though, he added, was forcing objecting workers to pay for “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.”

Elrich said he got a refund of “between $350 and $400 a year” based on the union’s determination of what part of its activities were political. But he and the other plaintiffs say that everything the union does in negotiating with the government is political and that the Abood decision should be overruled.

“In this era of broken municipal budgets and a national crisis in public education,” a brief for the plaintiffs said, “it is difficult to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money local governments should devote to public employees, or what policies public schools should adopt to best educate children.”

“Yet California and more than 20 other states,” the brief continued, “compel millions of public employees to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a very specific viewpoint on these pressing public questions.”

Karen Cuen, an elementary school music teacher in Chino Hills, California, and a plaintiff in the suit, gave an example. “I disagree with seniority-based layoffs, seniority-based school assignments,” she said.

Duncan, the first-grade teacher and union supporter, said the line between politics and collective bargaining was clear. “I do absolutely understand not wanting your money going to actual political campaigning,” she said.

“But when you think of politics, you think of political campaigns like school board races and ballot propositions,” she said. “I don’t think it’s political to care about working conditions as far as class size or your benefits.”

In the new case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, urged the justices to leave the Abood ruling alone. Reaping the benefits of collective bargaining, he said, is not the same as being compelled to support a political position.

“The typical worker would surely perceive a significant difference between, on the one hand, contributing to a union’s legal and research costs to develop a collective-bargaining proposal for his own unit, and, on the other hand, making a political contribution to a union-favored candidate for governor,” Verrilli wrote.

Kamala D. Harris, California’s attorney general, told the justices in a brief that workers who object to the positions taken by unions suffer no First Amendment injuries because “they remain free to communicate their views to school officials, their colleagues and the public at large.”

In 2014, in Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court stopped just short of overruling the Abood decision, ruling only that the home health care aides who had brought the suit did not have to pay union fees because they were not full-fledged government workers.

In dissent in the 5-to-4 decision, which divided along ideological lines, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that her side had dodged a bullet. “Readers of today’s decision,” she wrote, “will know that Abood does not rank on the majority’s top-ten list of favorite precedents — and that the majority could not restrain itself from saying (and saying and saying) so.”


'It's fine to hit a wife who doesn't please you': What Islamic cleric is telling students as he tours British universities unchallenged... and he's not alone

An Islamic cleric who defends domestic violence is among a string of extremist speakers touring British universities unchallenged, the Mail Investigations Unit can reveal.

Egyptian cleric Fadel Soliman spoke at five such events last year, using them to refer Muslim students to an online lecture series in which he speaks in favour of hitting women and outlines the Islamic case for sex slavery and polygamy.

Mr Soliman told students at Sheffield University that watching his lectures could be ‘a turning point’ in their lives.

In his extraordinary videos, he advises physical punishment for wives who have displeased their husbands, saying ‘the hitting must be done with a small stick’.

Explaining why it is necessary, he says that when a husband is unhappy with the behaviour of his wife, ‘after passing through two stages of non-physical interaction, the next stage must involve something physical, in order to escalate the intensity of the warning’.

The preacher is one of several extremists being permitted to espouse their views unchallenged at Britain’s universities – in a possible breach of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, Prevent. Since September, universities and colleges are legally required to have policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campus. This includes an obligation to ‘ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged’.

The Mail revealed yesterday how CAGE – the notorious organisation which called Islamic State killer Jihadi John ‘a beautiful young man’ – has participated in at least 13 university events since September, calling on students to sabotage Prevent.
The true implication of the spanking is to sound an alarm that the husband has passed to a new stage of serious displeasure.
Egyptian cleric Fadel Soliman

Another group, MEND, an Islamist organisation whose director has condoned the killing of British troops, appeared in at least ten events on campuses across the country last term.

And a speaker from an organisation which mocked last year’s Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris spoke at a student event despite having being refused permission, using the platform to tell students the State was ‘fundamentally racist’ and they should oppose Prevent.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the revelations show universities need to do more to stop ‘damaging, extremist rhetoric’ going unchallenged on campuses.

Up to 19 universities where the Mail identified extremist-linked speakers or events could now face an inquiry by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, it is understood.

Lord Carlile, one of Britain’s top legal experts, said last night that universities that allowed Mr Soliman to speak unchallenged had ‘failed in their duty of care’. He said: ‘This is a person who has given at least tacit approval to what sounds like criminal behaviour. Universities really should not be permitting people like this on to their campuses.’

Mr Soliman is thought to have spoken at Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield universities. He urged young Muslims to watch his disturbing 30-part video series endorsing violent and extreme practices.

In one, he suggests it is acceptable for a man to hit his wife, if she repeatedly ‘goes out and refuses to say where she’s going’. He says: ‘The hitting must be done with a small stick’ and ‘should not be painful’, adding: ‘The true implication of the spanking is to sound an alarm that the husband has passed to a new stage of serious displeasure.’

In another video he says it is forbidden for men and women to ‘engage in frivolous talk’, that ‘men and women should lower their gaze and avoid unnecessary eye contact, especially with lust’. He says Muslims should avoid interacting with members of the opposite sex, even at work, and women should not wear perfume as it ‘arouses men’. In other videos, he outlines the Islamic case for sex slavery and polygamy.

At an event at the University of Sheffield on December 3, Mr Soliman urged 120 Muslim students: ‘Put these videos on your Facebook pages, share it with people.’ He was also allowed to speak at the University of Manchester last month, despite concerns being raised by university staff. At the event, the cleric said: ‘They told me not to say anything controversial.’

Mr Soliman denies he supports domestic violence. He said: ‘I have provided the Mail with a detailed response to the allegations which are published in this article and informed them in detail why I am not guilty of the things which they allege against me. Once the paper is published, I will respond to the allegations on my own website.’

He has a strong following among young female students. The Sheffield event – which was not formally segregated but at which men and women sat on opposite sides of the hall – had an audience of more than 100 students, mostly female.

Beforehand, groups of young women could be heard discussing how much they ‘love’ Mr Soliman – even making swooning gestures and fanning themselves. One woman in her early 20s, who travelled from London, told others how excited she was to see the cleric in person.

Debora Green, Head of Student Support and Wellbeing at the University of Sheffield, said: 'External speakers play a central role in university life and allow students to be exposed to a range of different beliefs, challenge other people’s views and develop their own opinions.

'Like all universities, the University of Sheffield adheres to UUK guidelines and we have our own protocols and procedures that have to be satisfied before external speakers are given the green light to speak at campus events. This event was no exception.

'The University takes its role in preventing people being drawn into terrorism extremely seriously and is committed to protecting the safety of our staff and students. We are actively involved in the Government's Prevent strategy and have had strong partnerships with the police and security services for a number of years.'

Another organisation allowed to speak unchallenged at recent university events is MEND – a radical Islamist group that has been associated with a number of extremist statements. MEND’s head of community development, Azad Ali, has suggested the killing of British troops can be justified.

He has also said that the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which a gang of Islamist militants slaughtered more than 160, were ‘not terrorism’ and that implementing Sharia law was more important than democracy.

Last year MEND supported hardline Indian preacher Zakir Naik – who claims that ‘every Muslim should be a terrorist’ – calling on the Government to revoke a ban on him travelling to the UK. Despite this, it was permitted to host ten university events last term.

At one MEND-linked event, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, speakers suggested the treatment of Muslims was akin to Jews under the Nazis. They also suggested IS had been created by ‘power structures’ in the West. One speaker, Sahar Al Faifi, said: ‘It’s within their interest to fuel Islamophobia. It’s within their interest to sell more weapons. It’s within their interest to make the Middle East unstable.’ These views went unchallenged at the event, entitled Muslim Women In The West.

Another group given platforms at student events is the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). It is notorious for bestowing an ‘Islamophobes of the Year’ award on the murdered staff of Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Like CAGE and MEND, IHRC has been involved in the Students Not Suspects university movement, which campaigns against Prevent. An advocate of IHRC, Lena Mohamed, was invited to lead a talk at SOAS in September, where she encouraged students to sabotage counter-extremism measures at universities.

At an event in Manchester, Mrs Mohamed denied extremism was an issue at universities and said the State was ‘fundamentally racist’. Yesterday a SOAS spokesman said the school was confident it upheld its duties under Prevent, adding: ‘We provide a forum for speakers who ... represent different viewpoints. We encourage open debate and aim to create an atmosphere where all perspectives can be aired and challenged.’

MEND said there had ‘never been any substantiated links’ between it and extremism ‘and all allegations to the contrary are false’. It denied it had any role in organising the Muslim Women In The West event at SOAS.

IHRC said: ‘Our opposition to Prevent is well documented and our views are shared by many individuals and organisations, from unions, teachers, lecturers, students, lawyers and academics to some politicians. As a human rights organisation, we support everyone’s rights, regardless of whether we agree with them.’


Poor pupils 'more likely' to get an Oxford interview, says head of admissions

Samina Khan, head of Oxford admissions, has said bright pupils should be encouraged to “read widely” and "go on visits"

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are “more likely” to get an interview at Oxford University, its head of admissions had said.

Samina Khan also said bright children need to start preparing for getting into Oxbridge from the age of 11, according to the head of Oxford admissions.

Asked if a pupil predicted top grades was more likely to get an interview at Oxford if they came from a disadvantaged home or low-performing school, she told the TES: “You are more likely to be looked at and shortlisted for an interview. All those indicators are giving us information about your academic journey in a particular context.”

However, she explained this is the case when the university reaches a “threshold point” when it becomes more difficult to select one pupil over another just based on their grades.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, she said: “We had 19,000 applicants for 3,200 places who came from a range of different educational backgrounds.

“So to help us to understand their academic potential, we use contextual data, which gives us information on any prior attainment. It tells us if they come from a poor performing school, we understand if the grades they have achieved to date have been achieved in quite a challenging environment.

She said that information is used by admissions tutor to do their “shortlisting” and to understand an applicant’s performance beyond just their statement and academic references. This way, she said, Oxford is “able to compare applicants from different backgrounds”.

A spokesman at the university qualified her comments: “The point about students from disadvantaged backgrounds getting extra consideration is related to our use of contextual flags to invite extra candidates to interview (not pushing out otherwise more qualified candidates) on the one hand, and making marginal decisions about candidates on the borderlines on the other.”

Ms Khan, who is also a school governor, has argued the process to nurture successful applicants should begin that early so children understand “what they will need to have achieved” to enter a highly selective university.

However, some have expressed concerns that this will lead to pushy parents overcoaching their children, which will in turn widen the gap between children who get support and those who lack help.

Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Ms Khan said schools should start preparing children for successful applications at Oxbridge from Year 7.

She said: “I would say with some of the schools we visit, it very much falls upon the head of sixth form and I think they are then perhaps realising, in terms of Oxford and selective universities, it needs to have happened further down.

“I’m a governor at a school and one of the things I’m trying to encourage there is to say, for the talented cohort, let’s start in Year 7. Let’s start raising aspiration…let’s start showing them what they will need to have achieved.”

She said students’ talents should be nurtured through reading and articulation of thoughts around specific subjects at school.

She added: “Encourage them to read widely. If they are interested in history, go on visits that inspire them.

“Get them to start to articulate their thoughts, to talk about their subject, because that’s one of the things that will help them in terms of interview practice.”

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said advice to parents to start coaching children from age 11 might be counterproductive.

He said: "Certainly, entry to university begins at an early age but one wonders how useful these comments from Oxford University will be.

"The risk is that they will act as an encouragement to over coaching. This will widen the gap between the children who get a lot of support and those who don't".

But Rebecca Williams, head of Oxbridge Applications, agreed it is “healthy” to have a goal in mind from an early age. She said: “It makes school easier if you’re working towards [getting into Oxbridge]”

“The application process is not something that can be done in a few weeks before the interview.”

“The more they can think on their feet…that needs to happen earlier and not just a couple of weeks before the interview is due. It drives the passion for the subject and that’s really what we are looking for.”


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