Union Dues Exploit Teachers, Taxpayers

Note: This commentary originally appeared at Foxnews.com.

What if I told you that regardless of your political beliefs, several hundred dollars will be deducted from your paycheck each year to support politicians whose views you may not support and political issues you oppose—and that there’s nothing you can do about it? You’d probably be pretty upset. But for many teachers, it’s just another day on the job.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is a powerful teachers’ union that runs a highly partisan political machine. Each year, it forces tens of thousands of public school teachers to fund its brazen political agenda under the guise that it “represents teachers’ interests.”

Rob Brough is just one teacher who has fallen victim to the union’s scam: “Their agenda and political ideals are counter to what I believe, and it is a kick in the teeth every time my dues are withdrawn from my hard-earned paycheck and handed off to some organization that I would never contribute to of my own free will.”

Rob isn’t a willing participant in his union’s automatic dues deduction scheme, but his only other option is finding another job. Many teachers like Rob never even voted for union representation in the first place. Sadly, he isn’t alone.  All around the country, hundreds of thousands of public school teachers have a portion of their paychecks taken from them each month so that their unions can finance their own political agendas.

Such a rotten deal may sound too far-fetched to be believed. But, in many states, government unions are legally able to automatically deduct their political money from employees’ paychecks and circumvent individual choice, forcing hard-working public servants to fund political causes contrary to their own beliefs and values.

Even worse: You and I pay for it. Government union contracts often require state and local governments to deduct union dues and Political Action Committee donations from employees’ paychecks using taxpayer-funded payroll systems. The funds are then funneled over to union headquarters and to highly-paid union bosses. For example, PSEA’s president earned $257,210 last year—three times the average PSEA member’s pay.

Not only are taxpayers funding union dues collection, but unions often use that money to push for higher taxes or against commonsense reforms that would reduce government budget deficits and debt. Just last month, Colorado’s teachers’ unions spent a whopping $4 million of teachers’ dues to convince voters to approve a $1 billion tax hike—they failed.

It’s a blatantly unfair system—lucrative for union leaders, expensive for taxpayers—and teachers have been stunned as they’ve learned of the union swindle. Robin Fought, a Pennsylvania science teacher, recently said, “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 [the union’s PAC] that go to candidates that I do not support.”

Public sector employees can opt out of paying full union dues, but, in the 26 forced-unionization states, many union contracts make that option very difficult and even require that non-members pay “fair share” fees just to keep their jobs.

Fortunately for public employees and taxpayers across the country, some states have worked to reduce the union stranglehold.

In Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington, unions must regularly obtain written consent from workers before political funds are deducted from their paychecks. Utah’s state government unions are prohibited from collecting any political money from employees. And public sector unions at various levels of government in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin are prohibited from automatically collecting union dues and PAC money out of employees’ paychecks.

But these states are more the exception than the rule. Teachers across the country are fighting back against their unions’ unfair political privileges and pushing for a system that’s fairer to teachers and taxpayers. Now it’s up to lawmakers to stand up, protect teachers’ hard-earned paychecks, and make government unions collect their own political money like everyone else—voluntarily and without using taxpayer resources.

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Matthew J. Brouillette, a former history teacher, is the president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org) Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.