Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teacher says no to the union

With permission of the this teacher I have posted his letter to the school board. Our public schools would be much better places if we had more teachers like the man below.


Dear Board Members:

As all of you know, this year the teacher contract expires and is up for renegotiation. I am communicating with you directly because the teacher’s union, though permitted by law to act as my representative, in no way represents me. Shortly after accepting employment with the district in 1990, I resigned my membership in the union, and I have remained nonunion ever since. Prior to 1995, union membership and paying dues to the union were completely voluntary. The union stood or fell based on the willingness of each teacher to join and contribute to it. In 1995, however, the union leadership convinced the school board to agree to a contract provision mandating either union membership or the payment by nonmembers of an “agency fee” - a fee the union set at 100% of union dues (making the absurd claim that all union dues are spent solely on collective bargaining). The union calls this kick back arrangement “fair share.”

There is nothing fair about “fair share,” however, and in twenty-two states such coercive kick back schemes are illegal. While the union might argue that it negotiates for all so all should be forced to pay, this is a “catch-22” argument since no one is allowed to negotiate for themselves. By law, a simple majority of the teachers can compel the rest to accept union representation. This is unfair enough, but now with “fair share,“ they can also force all teachers to pay the union whatever it demands. If the union truly resents having to negotiate for nonmembers, they should surrender their power to act as the exclusive bargaining agent and allow nonmembers to make their own agreements with the board. The union is not about to do this, however, since that would shatter their monopoly power (over both the board and the teachers) and open the door to freedom of contract and to market competition.

The fact is fair share is an attack upon the rights of all who work in the district - not just nonunion employees. Since the imposition of coerced payment, the NEA and IEA have repeatedly raised annual dues. The national and state organizations have then used much of this new money to both pad their payrolls and to engage in rather dubious political activity having nothing to do with collective bargaining. They can do this with relative impunity because they know with “fair share” in place in many districts, they now have a captive membership and a guaranteed cash flow to fund more power grabs and to further promote their political agendas. Individual union members (but notably not nonmembers) can make a feeble protest by voting in union elections, of course, but thanks to the efforts of a union negotiating team in the 1990’s (probably acting at the behest of the state and national organizations), District *** teachers lost the ultimate leverage - the right to leave the union and take their financial contribution with them. Of course, individual members are still nominally free to leave the union and pay an agency fee, and they even have the right to challenge that agency fee before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (as I have done), but facing the legal and bureaucratic obstacles “fair share” places in their path, most teachers have simply given in. When “fair share” was first put in place, there were, as I recall, some two dozen teachers who were not members of the union. Now, as far as I can tell, that number is down to one (me).

With a new (and perhaps more militant) union leadership taking over this year and tighter budgets in prospect, the possibility of a teacher strike looms. Should a strike occur, I will not support it and will stand ready to report for duty. I will have that freedom because I am not a union member. (Illinois law permits the union to impose legally enforceable fines on members who defy a strike.) I believe it is in the board’s interest and in the interests of the district’s taxpayers to insist on the removal of the “fair share” provision from the next contract. This would empower individual teachers who are so inclined to move against the union and break the back of any strike. Even in the absence of a strike, the presence of a substantial number of nonunion teachers will put pressure on the union to be more flexible in its demands. In short, there is no benefit to the district for the board to empower the union to coerce teachers it allegedly represents and every reason for the board to insist on the restoration of individual teacher rights to freedom of association.

I knew a member of the negotiating team that first got the board to give in on “fair share.” (Previous boards had always upheld teacher rights and said “no.”) She told me that the team was surprised the board gave in and that it was certainly not a priority or something at the time they were willing to strike over or even hold up an agreement over. According to my colleague, the board placed it on the table, and the union took it. No doubt this year’s union negotiators will squawk should the board now insist on removing “fair share.” They will make the same fallacious arguments that everyone should be made to pay for their “services.“ Fair share is not about payment for services, however, but about control and power. Unable in the past to get all teachers to knuckle under and pay up voluntarily, the union coerced the board into forcing teachers to pay and thereby the board greatly enhanced the union’s power.

I am hopeful that this year’s negotiations provide an opportunity to remedy this past injustice and produce a contract that respects the rights of all teachers. Perhaps it is only me that feels so strongly about this, and if that be true, the union has nothing to worry about in giving up its coerced dues. (They already lost my dues after I went to the trouble of enlisting the help of a lawyer and filing an objection with the IELRB - something I must do every school year.) If, on the other hand, the union knows that many teachers, if given the opportunity, would opt out and withdraw support for the union’s political agenda, then the union has every reason to fight the end of “fair share.” It would be interesting to see how confident the union is in the depth of its rank and file support, and whether the union reps really want to try and make the argument that the teachers they represent want to be forced to pay.

Thank you for your time.

Quote of the Day - “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.” Albert Shanker

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