Note: This guest commentary was written by fourteen-year Pennsylvania public school teacher Keith Williams.
For the past fourteen years, I’ve taught high school English in an Adams County public school, but I’m not only a teacher—I’m also a parent. My wife and I have three children attending public school in our district. You can see why I care deeply about education in Pennsylvania.
I want what’s best for students, what’s right for myself and my fellow teachers, and what’s responsible for my neighbors, who provide a significant investment in public education through their property taxes.
But doing the right thing is not always easy. In fact, it is rarely so. Most often, it requires sacrifice and can be uncomfortable.
In September of 2001, I proudly served with my search and rescue team in the recovery efforts immediately following the terrorist attacks in New York City. I spent weeks combing through debris to find personal effects and remains because I felt it was the right thing to do.
Standing up in the face of powerful forces, criticism, or threats is the only way I can ever hope to make a difference.
When I testified this summer before the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee in support of a critical government reform called paycheck protection, I was also hoping to make a difference.
Why is this issue so important to me—a teacher, taxpayer, and father?
Until this school year, no one in the school district where I teach had to pay a union in order to keep his or her teaching job. Then, in March of 2013, the local union membership in my district voted to become “agency shop,” forcing me and dozens of other teachers to choose either to leave or pay a fee to a union we didn’t want or need.
I shouldn’t have had to make that choice, but it’s even worse for taxpayers who have no choice at all when it comes to supporting teachers’ unions.
In my district and across the state, school district offices, staff, and accounting systems supported with taxpayer money are used by a political lobbying group—the teachers’ union—to siphon money from the paychecks of educators and funnel it to Harrisburg lobbyists and political SuperPACs.
Using public resources for political gain is currently illegal for everyone—except teachers’ unions and other government unions.
If you think this is an issue that doesn’t affect you personally, consider this: In the November election, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association donated a combined $1 million of teachers’ dues money to the SuperPAC called PA Families First, according to public campaign records. This SuperPAC spent that money—collected from teachers’ paychecks using public resources—to run attack ads in the gubernatorial election that you probably saw on TV.
It doesn’t matter whose side you were on in the election—this shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
And it’s not just political attack ads. A college professor from Williamsport, Mary Trometter, recently filed a charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board against her union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). Days before the election, the PSEA sent Trometter’s husband a partisan political mailer urging him to vote for Gov.-elect Wolf—falsely claiming Trometter was, too.
It’s bad enough that the PSEA would presume to steal members’ endorsements, but what motivates me to stand up and demand change is that you and I helped collect the political dues money used to send that offensive letter.
It’s really just common sense that teachers shouldn’t have to support candidates they don’t approve of and taxpayers shouldn’t be collecting money to fund anyone’s political agenda.
I was pleased to see committees in both the Senate and House advance paycheck protection bills this summer. Now, lawmakers have another chance to finish the job and pass a new paycheck protection bill named after Mary Trometter: “Mary’s Law” could soon be a reality.
As a teacher, a father of kids in public schools, and a taxpayer, I urge all our elected officials to join me in standing up for what’s right. Pass a paycheck protection law and restore fairness and transparency to the collective bargaining table, and do it now.
Teachers like Mary Trometter and me, other public servants, and Pennsylvania’s taxpayers deserve nothing less.
# # #
Keith Williams is a high school English teacher in the Conewago Valley School District in Adam’s County.