Pa. Teachers Exit Unions, Reclaim Freedom

Contact: Gina Diorio, 862-703-6670, [email protected]

Pa. Teachers Exit Unions, Reclaim Freedom

Coercive Unionism in Pa. School Districts Drives Teachers to Find Alternatives   

September 1, 2015, Harrisburg, Pa.—On the schoolyard playground, rules maintain a fair playing field. But in most Pennsylvania school districts, the game is rigged in favor of powerful unions—at teachers’ expense. That’s why a growing number of teachers are opting out of their union and reclaiming their freedom—teachers like Mary Trometter, assistant professor of culinary arts at Pennsylvania College of Technology, who recently resigned her longtime membership in the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).

“For more than 20 years, I paid union dues, only to become increasingly aware that the PSEA’s goal isn’t truly supporting teachers but supporting its own political aims,” Trometter said. “The last straw was the PSEA’s use of my dues last fall to send my husband a political mailer suggesting I was endorsing Tom Wolf for governor and asking my husband to do the same.”

Trometter is not alone. Rob Brough and John Cress, teachers in western Pennsylvania’s Ellwood City Area School District, are fans of their local union, but they’ve also bid union membership farewell, as local membership automatically translates into state and national membership.  

“I chose to leave my union,” Cress shares. “I think the taxpayers who pay my salary—and the salaries of tens of thousands of teachers like me—should know why.”

The “why” is how unionism works in nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts:

  1. New teachers automatically become a member of their district’s “bargaining unit.”
  2. Due to union contracts negotiated behind closed doors, teachers can either join the union and pay more than $600 in dues annually, or not join and still pay more than $400 per year in “fair share” fees as a condition of employment.
  3. Teachers can challenge their “fair share” fee but based only on how it’s calculated or on religious grounds.  
  4. Teachers’ dues and “fair share” fees primarily support the union’s operations, leaders, and politics—not teachers.

“I was originally happy to have union backing and respect the efforts of our local union members,” Cress added. “But when I signed up, I didn’t know that local money filtered outside of our district to support a politically driven national agenda that doesn’t serve the teaching community. Each teacher should have a choice in who represents them and whether to join a union, become a fair share member, or opt for no membership. And unions should be transparent and provide full disclosure of the politics our money is funding.”

Brough agreed, also supporting the local union but expressing concern with the state and national unions’ political activities: “Their agenda and political ideals are counter to what I believe,” he said of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and National Education Association (NEA), “and it’s a kick in the teeth every time my dues are withdrawn from my hard earned paycheck and handed off to some PAC that I would never contribute to of my own free will.”

Opting out is one alternative

Instead of remaining unwilling accomplices in the union’s operations, Trometter, Brough, and Cress resigned their union membership with the help of Free to Teach (FTT), a project of the Commonwealth Foundation. And they are three of a growing number of teachers doing the same.

“Teachers are told unions like the PSEA support and serve them, but in reality, these powerful unions trap teachers in a system that forces them to fund union activities and politics—whether they want to or not,” stated Brittney Parker, project director for Free to Teach. “In fact, nearly half of PSEA’s spending goes to union operations, lobbying, and political efforts. How does this help teachers?”

Parker says as more teachers learn how the state’s largest teachers' union functions, more are choosing to resign membership and free themselves from the cycle of forced unionism.

“Teachers’ unions purposefully negotiate contracts behind closed doors so teachers—and taxpayers—are kept in the dark about how unionism works in Pennsylvania,” Parker stated. “It’s time to throw open the doors and shine light on Pennsylvania’s union practices, so teachers can truly be empowered to teach.” 

What is Free to Teach? is an online community and resource center that equips and empowers Pennsylvania teachers hungry for information about public education and the teaching profession. Free to Teach covers topics that affect teachers’ professional lives, like public pensions, performance pay, seniority, school spending, and labor rights.

Brittney Parker is available for comment today. Contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.