Note: This commentary first appeared in the Patriot News.
Do I have a deal for you! For a small annual fee of $669, you can join a political organization I’m starting called the MEA—Matt’s Education Association.
Don’t worry about writing a check; my friends in government will gladly withhold my fee from your paycheck, just like taxes, and send it to me free of charge.
In exchange, I will represent your interests—although almost half of your money will cover overhead and my $257,000 salary, as well as the luxury conferences and golf outings that help me run this organization. I’ll funnel much of the rest to partisan political causes I believe in.
You don’t like my politics? No problem, you can always opt out. But I’ll still take $450 from your paycheck—you’ve got to pay your “fair share!” Oh, I’ll also be sure to let your colleagues know that you’re not much of a team player.
You say you don’t want to join or pay anything at all? I understand, that’s your free choice—as long as you choose to find a job someplace else.
Sounds like a rotten deal, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the majority of Pennsylvania’s public school teachers have little choice but to accept.
Although the MEA is fictional, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is all too real. PSEA President Michael Crossey does, in fact, make $257,000 and doles out teachers’ forced dues on his union’s pet political projects.
The PSEA and its sister union, Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT), aren’t just spending teachers’ dues money on education issues. They are lobbying to raise your taxes, prevent pension reform, keep the government in the booze business, and against school choice.
The kicker? Not only are teachers forced to pay for union politics—you are too. Taxpayer-funded payroll systems are used to collect dues and PAC money—deducted from teachers’ pay before they even touch the money—and send it to union headquarters.
You don’t have to take my word for it: Teachers across the state are speaking out about this unfair system.
Take Robin Fought, a Chester County science teacher, who says, “To my surprise, our school district resources, as well as my tax money, are being used to deduct not only union dues, but political action committee funds for PSEA-PACE that go to candidates that I do not support.”
Don’t believe me that dues money can be used for politics? John Cress, a math teacher in Lawrence County, explained in a radio interview: “There’s hard money versus soft money. The soft money—that’s what our dues are used towards—that would be like the fliers, the emails, the campaigns to basically say vote for this candidate as opposed to that candidate.”
Thankfully, voters overwhelmingly oppose this scheme that exploits teachers to promote union bosses’ political agendas.
A recent survey of likely voters revealed that 79 percent of voters (and 75 percent of union members) agree that unions should not be permitted to use taxpayer-funded resources to collect union dues.
The public gets it because no other private or political group enjoys such privileges on the taxpayers’ dime. No other organization exerts such control over supposedly free citizens and employees. And no other organization has done more to harm the teaching profession, either.
That’s why teachers like Julie Raab, a Dauphin County librarian, are protesting. She says, “It’s kind of a parasitic situation where the unions feed off of teachers. They see us as cash cows.”
Rob Brough, a Lawrence County history teacher, wants no part of union politics: “The NEA/PSEA’s agendas and political ideals are counter to what I believe, and it is a kick in the teeth every time my dues are withdrawn from my hard-earned paycheck and handed off to some organization that I would never contribute to of my own free will.”
The principle is simple: No one should be forced to pay for politics they don’t like.
It’s time the PSEA, PFT, and other government unions collect their own political money instead of using the taxpayers as their collection agents.
Teachers are taking a bold stand and telling the stories of the harm government unions’ unfair political privileges are causing to their profession, to taxpayers, and to students. The question is, will lawmakers listen?
Matthew J. Brouillette, a former history teacher, is the president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg. All teachers quoted are partners in FreeToTeach (FreeToTeach.org), a project of the Commonwealth Foundation.