Teachers’ Independence Day as they enjoy newfound freedom from union fees
The voices of millions of Americans who feel government employees should decide for themselves whether to financially support a union have been heard. In a case with far-reaching implications for the profession of teaching and education reform, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1977 decision that forced government employees to pay agency fees to a union.
Mark Janus, a social worker employed by the State of Illinois, convinced the Court that forcing government workers to pay union fees violates his right to free speech under the First Amendment (Janus v. AFSCME).
The problem? Collective bargaining affects all things political; taxes, spending and the size and policies of government, such as teacher licensure, salaries and pensions, K-12 curriculum and student discipline. The Court admitted its error; America will no longer sacrifice the speech rights of public employees to the false god of “free riders” and on the altar of labor peace.
The ruling appears to require that employers of “fair share” fee payers must stop deducting fees immediately until they have affirmative consent from the employees to do so. Center of the American Experiment estimates that 10,000 or more public employees who pay fair share fees will immediately see an increase in their paycheck with the end of forced union fees with the likelihood thousands more union members will follow suit over time.
Mark Janus had a lot of help from a veteran California teacher. Rebecca Friedrichs fought her way to the Supreme Court to make that same argument just two years ago. Observers, including government unions, said she won her case but Justice Scalia died before the opinion was published.
“This is a great day for education—for children, for families, for the teaching profession. For over 40 years educators have been forced to financially subsidize the social, sexual, and political agenda of the state and national teachers’ unions—against our wills, behind our backs, and as a condition of employment. And children are the victims,” said Friedrichs, founder of For Kids & Country.
Unions have had guaranteed revenue for decades, no matter what kind of service they deliver. As a result, unions have grown disinterested in teachers, arrogant and highly political. This has not been good for the women and men they represent or for the students and parents who must live with the results.
We have interviewed dozens of teachers; they tell us that while they love teaching, the job gets harder, and less safe, every year.
One St. Paul teacher, Aaron Benner, lost his job after he and other teachers were assaulted by students; he went to the school board after the school failed to discipline the students. But after twenty years of taking his dues, Benner’s union failed to defend him. Instead, it sided with the “restorative justice” policies of the district and against Benner.
But a win at the Supreme Court does not mean the road ahead is clear. While the NEA and other unions announced major budget and staff cuts before Janus was decided, unions are also trying to expand membership to include non-teachers, and re-define who gets to be a delegate, to shore up revenue and political clout.
In anticipation of the Janus decision, Education Minnesota greeted teachers last fall with a “Membership Renewal” card. Teachers were all asked to sign an agreement that attempts to lock-in membership and union fees, and limits teachers to a narrow seven-day window to opt out. And they charged teachers an extra $14 in dues to pay for the campaign! The union claims over 80 percent of teachers have signed the card.
These union agreements, designed to frustrate teachers, are under legal challenge. In the meantime, we caution teachers not to sign the renewal card. The card asks teachers for the last four digits of their social security number and other personal contact data that the union does not need to represent teachers. Moreover, if the data is hacked, or sold, teachers could be vulnerable to identity theft. Teachers who signed the card, however, still have the right to resign from membership.
Yet if teachers use this gift from the Supreme Court, and exercise their restored rights, the union will not have a choice. It will have to learn to respect teachers. The time is here when powerful state trade unions like Education Minnesota, and its national affiliates, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), will finally have to earn the support of teachers.
Kim Crockett is vice president and senior policy fellow and Catrin Thorman, a former teacher, is a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment. They are co-directors of EducatedTeachersMN.com, an on-line resource for teachers in Minnesota.