If I’m Trusted With Children, Trust Me to Make My Own Union Choices

Heather ListerAsk a teacher about their best memory and I guarantee they’ll get a little sappy. I love being in a profession where people are constantly trying to get better.

I once heard someone say “I learn more than I teach” and that is exactly how I feel.

I’ve been a library media specialist in central Pennsylvania for four years. It’s hard to be in a room of third-graders and not learn something from them. Watching them encounter something for the first time is such an amazing experience.

But even as I love teaching, it’s impossible for me to look at the current union structure in Pennsylvania and not get frustrated.

I’m not anti-union. I’m anti-FORCED union. I’m a professional and an American citizen. I’m trusted with educating children every day, yet I can’t decide whether to support an organization or not? I should have the ability to evaluate my options and make a choice. A real choice. Not something that some nonsensical formula determines to be “fair.”

My husband is also a public school teacher. When we first got married and starting thinking about a family, we took a hard look at where we were putting our money. Both of us were giving nearly $700 a year to join the teachers’ union, and while we knew some of the funds were going towards representation and collective bargaining, we weren’t really sure how the National Education Asssociation was using our dues.

Upon some research, we found that our union dues were supporting things we would certainly not support on our own accord. While it took some digging, we were astonished when we found the details of where the money was going. Not only was the NEA supporting causes we didn’t support, but they were pumping OUR money into trying to dismantle some organizations or causes we did support.

When we decided to leave our unions, we learned that it was an all-or-nothing package. Leaving the NEA also meant that we were leaving our state and local unions. Since my husband and I teach in different districts, our local unions were very different (as they should be since they represent different people). But whether we wanted the support from our local union or not, we still weren’t trusted to make a choice.

We either supported them (and then also supported state-level Pennsylvania State Education Association and NEA), or we were lumped into a group of “fee payers” used synonymously with “conservative Republicans.”

I’m a registered Democrat. I chose to register as a Democrat because of certain values and issues many of the candidates support or oppose. So while I support things like marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose (traditionally aligned with Democrats), I also support state’s rights and am against big government (right-wing views). When election time comes, I evaluate my options and pick the best candidate. Sometimes I cross party lines and vote for a Republican candidate. (Oh no!)

As a professional and an American citizen, I believe that I should be equipped to choose. If I want to join the NEA, PSEA, and my local union – great! Local union only? That’s great too. No union at all and just get myself private liability insurance? Perfectly fine as well.

When I think of my job as a teacher, I try not to think of my frustration with Pennsylvania’s union structure. Instead, I think of the amazing students and teachers I interact with every day. Most teachers I know are passionate about professional development and reaching students in new ways. Being a teacher isn’t my “job”, it’s who I am—and I want my union choice to reflect my identity too.

Heather Lister
Library Media Specialist
Dauphin County