NYSUT’s messy math

by Ken Girardin |  | NY Torch

An updated federal filing by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) shows the statewide teachers union lost fewer dues-paying members than previously reported in this space—and that NYSUT has been playing fast and loose with federal reporting rules.

NYSUT is subject to federal reporting requirements because a small portion of its members, including those at charter schools and private colleges, work outside government agencies and bargain under federal private-sector rules. These require annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) detailing finances, spending, and membership so workers may see how their union dues or fees are spent.

NYSUT reported late last year that it ended August 2018 with 427,598 workers paying dues or agency fees. That figure marked a 6 percent drop from the 455,655 reported having as of August 2017, NYSUT’s last filing before the U.S. Supreme Court in June said in Janus v. AFSCME that people couldn’t be forced to pay a government union.

However, NYSUT in November 2017 updated its 2017 filings and revised downward the number of members it had before the Janus ruling. It appears NYSUT double-counted 21,964 people as both fee-payers and dues-paying members.

Based on these updated pre-Janus numbers, NYSUT in 2018 collected money from 6,093 fewer people, or 1.4 percent, rather than 28,057 fewer people or 6.2 percent as previously reported in this space.

The underlying fact however remains: NYSUT is collecting money from fewer people than it was a year ago now that it can’t force people to pay. Indicators ranging from state education aid to the number of people paying into the state Teachers’ Retirement System show that the number of people paying NYSUT would otherwise be growing, and it is unclear exactly how many people have stopped paying (or refused to begin paying).

More fuzzy numbers

DOL filings are typically a reliable source of information because deliberately submitting a false statement is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in federal prison.

That said, closer inspection of NYSUT’s filings shows at least one other major issue.

Like most statewide unions, NYSUT pays a “per capita tax” to its national parent organizations, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA). Per capita taxes (PCT) are defined by DOL as payments made “as a condition or requirement of affiliation with your parent national or international union, state and local central bodies, a conference, joint or system board, joint council, federation, or other labor organization.” Even though each teachers union local is its own organization, NYSUT’s constitution (page 5) requires them (and each member) to give NYSUT the required amount so NYSUT can in turn pay the PCT on their behalf.

About $234 of each full-time NYSUT teacher’s annual union dues are collected by NYSUT and passed to AFT and NEA, in addition to the $378 collected and spent by NYSUT itself.

NYSUT represents at least 200,000 full-time teachers, and should be reporting well over $40 million in per capita tax payments, but says in its fiscal 2018 LM-2 that its PCT totaled just $3.5 million. Instead, NYSUT appears to be grouping funds paid up to its national parents with funds collected on behalf of locals for whom it handles the books, and improperly reporting funds passed both up and down its hierarchy together as money collected “on behalf of affiliates for transmittal to them.” The problem there is that NYSUT members can’t see how much of their dues, which for a full-time teacher can range from about $700 to nearly $1,400 for New York City teachers, gets piped out of state to national organizations, which is the entire reason PCT has to be itemized.

Why would NYSUT want to conceal that figure? The high cost of affiliating with a national union, and the negligible perceived return, has led entire teachers unions to break from their parent organizations. Last year, the teachers union in Clark County, Nevada—home to about 70 percent of the state’s teachers—seceded from its national and state affiliates, and the portion of dues spent by the state and national affiliates featured prominently in the lead-up. Teachers unions have also seen locals break away in Indiana, Hawaii, Tennessee and Florida since 2013.

A clear transparency gap

NYSUT only falls under DOL jurisdiction because a small fraction of its members bargain under federal private-sector rules. Absent that, the union would be under no obligation to itemize its expenditures or payroll for inspection by members. Some of the state’s largest unions—the corrections officer union NYSCOPBA, the United University Professions (UUP), the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA)—are a few of the largest examples of unions operating without any state or federal transparency requirement. Another, the city Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association, recently had millions of dollars of union funds vanish after the leadership—free from any state transparency mechanism—steered the money into investments in return for bribes.

This highlights a key state policy problem, as public employers are collecting about $750 million each year in union dues without any state-level transparency regime in place.

As long as taxpayers are granting unions the special privilege of enforcing their membership terms and taking dues from employee paychecks on their behalf, the affected workers must be able to see where their money goes.

And the need for transparency would be even greater if lawmakers begin subsidizing the unions directly.



- Ken Girardin is the Policy Analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy.