Freedom on the Horizon for Pa. Teachers?

Note: This guest commentary was authored by three Pennsyvlania public schoolteachers.

How much money will you have to pay a private political organization just to keep your job this year?

If this question sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is—unless you are a public school teacher in Pennsylvania or one of 24 other forced-union states. Then, it’s the sad reality. But a U.S. Supreme Court case argued this week could change that for tens of thousands of public employees.

Here’s why many Pennsylvania educators, like us, are hoping California public schoolteacher Rebecca Friedrichs, plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, wins her case.

As Pennsylvanians were already pinching dollars for holiday gift-buying, traveling, and year-end expenses, many public schoolteachers were hit with another expense.

Each year before Christmas, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA)—the state’s largest teachers’ union—sends out an obscure document called a Hudson Notice. The notice is essentially an invoice, specifying the amount of this year’s “fair share fee,” or what teachers who’ve chosen to opt out of union membership are still forced to pay to the union.

What happens if we choose not to pony up to the union? By law, union leaders can get us fired—even if we’re the best performing teachers in our districts.

Yes, you read that correctly. Despite not being a union member, teachers must pay the union hundreds of dollars each year as a condition of employment. For the 2015-16 school year, the “fair share fee” comes to about $450 for a full time teacher.

Can you imagine being told just before Christmas that if you want keep your job in 2016, you must write a big check to an organization you want no part of?

It sounds outrageous because it is. Yet somehow, outrageous has become typical for teachers and other public sector employees across the country.

This becomes even more troubling given the fact that many teachers across the country support their local union, but they disagree with the state and national teachers’ unions’ ideology and political activism.

During the last election cycle public sector unions contributed $14 million to the Democratic Governors Association. Additionally, the National Education Association (NEA) gave $1 million of teachers’ dues money to “America Works USA”, an arm of the Democratic Governors Association.

This month, America Works USA launched partisan attack ads in Pennsylvania criticizing the latest state budget. According to one news report, the organization will spend at least $500,000 on these ads.

For teachers who oppose the union’s ideology, there’s little recourse.  We must either join the union and have our dues support union leaders’ political agendas or opt-out of union membership and pay the “fair share fee.”

But even this fee is inherently political. The union uses it to negotiate how your tax money will be spent—including advocating against things like commonsense reforms to our broken public pension system.

Pension costs are taking money away from classrooms and driving up property taxes across the state. We shouldn’t be forced to support that political agenda.

Thankfully, help is on the horizon.

If the Court rules in Friedrichs’ favor, public employees across the country will be empowered to join or leave the union without penalty.

Currently, 25 states do not force public workers to fund a union. A favorable Supreme Court decision would grant the same rights to those in the other half of the country. 

A victory for Friedrichs would in no way prevent teachers from joining a union. Unions would still be able to collectively bargain and collect dues from those who choose to be members.

Instead, Friedrichs is about giving those who work in the public sector the freedom to choose whether union membership is best for them personally. It’s about protecting employees from pink slips simply because they prefer not to fund union activities. It’s about restoring workers’ freedoms of conscience and association.

After all, don’t these freedoms represent the very values educators impart to students every day? Teachers are entrusted to teach these freedoms. It’s time we’re entrusted to live them.

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Keith Williams teaches Language Arts in Adams County’s Conewago Valley School District. Jodie Kratz teaches Special Education in Dauphin County’s Central Dauphin School District. Matt Eason teaches Health in Chester County’s Avon Grove School District.