Unions were initially created to be a voice for workers, protecting them against poor working conditions and totalitarian management. To their credit, factory workplaces were made safer for workers after the inception of industrial labor unions.
However, today’s teacher labor unions do little to truly advance the teaching profession. Industrial-style unionism does not promote professionalism, nor has it helped teachers achieve the level of respect or compensation that other professionals enjoy. In fact, many would say that “unionism” and “professionalism” are opposite and exclusive approaches shaping the future of the teaching workforce.
Today, teacher unions do wield a fair amount of influence and power, but unfortunately too much of it seems to be directed towards partisan political activity and controversial social agendas which are not directly related to the classroom.
This misdirected influence is fueled largely by the union dues that teachers in many states are forced to pay through mandatory payroll deduction, whether they agree with the union’s political agenda or not—and in many cases, whether they are union members or not. Teachers in almost half the country must pay these union dues or equivalent union fees—often without the option of saying no—simply for the privilege of having a job in the public schools. This is a shocking surprise to teachers from “right-to-work” states, who enjoy legal protections against such garnishing of their wages.
Union contributions to political causes would be fine if they were authorized by each contributing teacher. This is the core issue of the court case. Yet all too often, union political spending is directly at odds with the personal or professional views of many union members. Like most organizations, unions can raise money for politics through voluntary political contributions. If that method falls short, they should not be allowed to make up the difference by using teachers’ mandatory collective bargaining dues without permission.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced they will take up a case on this very issue. At issue is whether or not the union has a constitutional right to use even non-member teachers’ dues however it chooses. Non-member teachers are those who have resigned from the union, but who are still forced to pay collective bargaining fees because of compulsory union laws in many states.
Unfortunately, it seems that the teacher unions have developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement—that somehow teachers owe the union money, whether or not that union is accurately representing teachers’ own personal beliefs or political preferences. At last, this concern is beginning to get the national attention it deserves. Too many teachers have been taken advantage of for too long by unions who claim to fight for teachers’ interests, but which instead have become side-tracked with political causes and agendas not even supported by their own members.
I am personally familiar with the pressure and coercion that is placed upon teachers to pay union dues, even in right-to-work states. As a first-year teacher, I received hate mail and insults when I didn’t join the union immediately upon beginning my teaching career. This case is an excellent chance for teachers to be protected, not only from forced payments for unwanted union politics, but also from the bullying and coercion that too often accompanies unionism and union dues.
Teachers nationwide will be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court hears Washington v. Washington Education Association. I commend the court for accepting this important case. I hope that the court will render a decision that helps protect the personal finances—and personal freedoms—of all of America’s teachers.