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Glendale, Burbank teachers unions say Janus decision has been galvanizing, not dividing

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Taline Arsenian, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn., says her membership has stayed steady around 1,250 despite a Supreme Court decision last year that has prohibited nonmembers from paying collective-bargaining fees.
(Photo by James Carbone)

Trepidation ran high for many Glendale and Burbank union members last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court dealt what many thought would be a huge blow to organized labor in its landmark ruling, Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The Janus decision was delivered on a 5-4 vote on June 27, 2018, and ruled that public unions cannot force or compel nonmembers to pay collective-bargaining fees. Such an action would constitute a violation of free speech, according to the ruling.

Some union leaders thought, at the time, that eliminating the pay requirement would cripple their organizations, which could struggle to stay solvent. A year later, leaders of the Glendale and Burbank teachers unions are saying Janus has turned into a unifying rather than divisive issue.

“The people who pushed for Janus are the ones who wanted to see collective bargaining weakened,” said Taline Arsenian, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn., which has nearly 1,250 members. “It hasn’t worked. If anything, our members are even more aware of the need for bargaining than ever.”

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Glendale members pay between $446.50 and $1,152 annually in dues, depending on hours and other factors, with that total split among the Glendale Teachers Assn., National Education Assn. and California Teachers Assn.

Glendale Unified officials and union representatives have not come to terms on a 2018-19 school-year contact after agreeing to a combined 3% raise last year for the previous two school years.

While negotiations were taking place, Arsenian was bracing for a Janus fallout which, to her relief, never materialized.

“We planned for a 20% loss [in members] and we’re nowhere near that,” she said. “In Glendale, if we include the people who were ... nonmembers before Janus, it’s about 2% of our bargaining unit.”

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She added, “It has not had the impact the people behind Janus expected it to.”

Burbank Teachers Assn. president Diana Abasta said she was not surprised Janus passed last year. What has caught the 38-year veteran teacher off-guard, however, is how well her group has weathered the change.

Last year, Abasta reported her membership at about 875 members with five fee payers. This year, she estimates having about 850 members, while the number of nonmembers has only risen by two.

“Since Janus, we’ve been on a mission not to campaign but educate our members about what we do,” Abasta said. “I’m proud to say the majority of our members understand the importance of this union.”

Members of the Burbank Teachers Assn. average paying around $1,100 annually in dues.

Since the Janus decision, Abasta’s negotiating team has delivered two raises, a 2% hike this past October followed by a 1% increase in June for the just-concluded year.

“There was some fear Janus would divide us,” Abasta said. “I believe it’s had the opposite effect. As a union, we’re as unified as ever.”

Roger Bowerman, president of the Glendale Community College Guild, said he was also pleased to announce his organization was hardly affected.

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“The Janus decision has had virtually no impact on the Glendale College Guild,” Bowerman said in an email from his honeymoon in Peru. “Our membership is stable at 95% of all faculty (100% of full-time faculty).”

Bowerman said the key to holding onto paying members was not just emphasizing bargaining but also demonstrating a commitment to activism, such as giving three guild scholarships last year to students from diverse backgrounds.

“The guild has embarked on a mission of social-justice unionism,” Bowerman said.

He added, “We work to address social issues through messages and actions.”

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