|What Your Association Dues Provide (An Insurance Policy).|
What Your Association Dues Provide (An Insurance Policy)
By: Daniel J. Leffler
In this Police Beat Edition, OPBA Attorney Mark Volcheck discusses the pending Supreme Court case dealing with fair share fees and union dues. The article may raise several questions, why do you care and what do you get for your Association dues. While the answers are more complex than can be explained here, in addition to bargaining, there are two benefits that the OPBA provides that should not be overlooked: “Just Cause” and “criminal defense.”
The most obvious benefit that each member sees from day-to-day is in the collective bargaining negotiation process. Collective Bargaining concludes in adjustments to economic benefits, such as wages and monetary provisions, and healthcare benefits. These are undoubtedly important and probably the primary concern for most members. To demonstrate the importance of collective bargaining as a whole, in 2015, I published an article that focused on the decline of the average American income compared to the decline of labor unions. “Over the past 25 years, the economy has grown 83 percent, after adjusting for inflation — and the typical family’s income hasn’t budged. In that time, corporate profits doubled as a share of the economy. Workers today produce nearly twice as many goods and services per hour on the job as they did in 1989, but as a group, they get less of the nation’s economic pie. In 81 percent of America’s counties, the median income is lower today than it was 15 years ago.” “Large businesses and the people who run them, and invest in them, are thriving but working and middle-class Americans are struggling — as are many small businesses. When asked what role the decline of collective bargaining played in creating the gap, Jan W. Rivkin, an economist and senior-associate Dean for research at Harvard Business School replied that there are several causes, one of which “is shifts in institutions and politics and bargaining power, which is embodied in the decline in collective bargaining and the weakening of labor unions. There’s no question that that is part of the story.” So the case before the Supreme Court is another attempt to further weaken the labor side, particularly public-sector labor, and to diminish employee bargaining power.
As a public safety or law enforcement officer, what impact does this have on you? If the government or employers can starve labor unions of dues, the labor side will not be able to continue to fight for the employee.
In addition, I argue that the two most important unappreciated benefits of your Association dues lies in the rights and obligations that the OPBA provides. For homeowners or car insurance, you pay a premium to insure against a catastrophic event that would cripple you financially. You may never use that insurance policy, but it is vital to your long-term financial health. Just like an insurance policy, the OPBA provides our members assurance in two key areas; just cause for discipline and criminal defense.
Generally speaking, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) define a grievance as a misinterpretation or misapplication of the specific terms of the CBA, including the requirement that the employer demonstrate “just cause” for discipline. Prior to collective bargaining, the workplace was governed by the at-will doctrine. Essentially, employees worked “at the will of the employer” so long as the employer’s actions didn’t violate a law or weren’t taken for discriminatory purposes. Under the master-servant relationship, the employer had every right to determine the employee’s wage and ultimately whether to suspend or terminate the employee for no reason. Under the just cause provision related to discipline, the employer is now prohibited from disciplining an employee for no reason. The Employer is required to prove a justifiable reason for discipline and that the level of discipline is appropriate for the alleged conduct. However, to vindicate the unjustly disciplined employee, the cost in attorney’s fees, witness fees, arbitrator’s fees, court reporter fees, etc. is substantial and probably beyond the means of the average officer, especially if you’ve suddenly lost your income. Assuming you hired an attorney at $200/hour and the attorney incurred 100 hours of work, your guaranteed cost is $20,000 before any expenses or arbitrator’s fees. The OPBA pays the full cost for arbitration.
As law enforcement officers know, the public’s and to some extent the prosecutors’ current attitude is that the officer, involved in any type of incident with the public, is guilty unless you can prove your innocence. Many routine use-of-force cases are now going to the grand jury, prosecutions of law enforcement officers are increasing, and criminal trials are no longer a rarity. Experienced criminal defense counsel may charge a retainer of $50,000 or more. A criminal trial could cost hundreds of thousands of Dollars. In the past 2 years, three OPBA members have gone to trial. The OPBA provided defense counsel and paid the expenses of those cases.
For $33 per month, the annual premium on your OPBA insurance policy is $396.00. For about a cup of coffee a day, the OPBA provides assurance against an employment fender-bender or major accident. Whether the OPBA can continue to charge a fair share fee or assess members through the employer payroll deduction is for the Supreme Court to decide. However, you must decide whether you would pay the premium to insure against a catastrophic event. Over a 25-year career, you would pay less in Association dues than 1 employment matter with outside counsel.
 Tankersley, Jim, Why the Middle Class Is Lost, The Washington Post, December 12, 2014.
 White, Gillian S., Why the Gap Between Worker Pay and Productivity Is So Problematic, The Atlantic, February 25, 2015.