For Years, My Union Exploited Me for Political Influence. So I Left.
I knew since fourth grade I wanted to be a teacher because of the quality of teachers I’d had in northeastern Pennsylvania. I had a desire to help others learn and succeed in the academic realm. In 1992, I earned my bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education from Bob Jones University.
While I wanted to concentrate first on being a wife and mother, I knew I eventually wanted to teach in North Pocono School District, which had a reputation for excellent education, sports, and music programs. I began working there full time in 2005, and now teach high school World History and AP Economics.
I love my district and community. They create an awesome work environment and align with my personal belief that the students are the main reason we are there—and that helping them succeed is the goal.
I was unsure about only one thing—union membership. Politically and religiously, as a conservative Christian, there was much of the PSEA and NEA agenda I wasn’t comfortable paying for. But colleagues told me I needed their professional liability insurance to protect my job. Then, on my first day, my union rep. handed me a membership packet and simply told me to sign the last page and return it to her.
In our area, like much of Pennsylvania, joining the union was simply what you did—only one or two teachers in the whole district were not members. So even with my doubts, I thought it was better to join than not.
Looking back, I now realize how important it is for teachers to know their options when it comes to joining a union. It’s a good thing there is legislation moving in the General Assembly right now to mandate notification of these options for all state workers.
Nobody really thinks about their union membership until the union starts to micromanage. In my experience, that’s when some of their deception and fear tactics surfaced. It took two watershed issues to make me resign.
The first issue was when the North Pocono Education Association called a strike in 2014. I have never agreed with teachers striking—I feel that striking hurts students and doesn’t bring forth anything positive. It was also my son’s senior year at North Pocono, so this one affected my own family.
What’s more, the strike revealed the particular intransigence of the union. I suggested offering concessions like smaller class sizes rather than only demanding higher pay at the bargaining table, but the union president said they couldn’t bargain over issues like that. That convinced me of something important: the union is not really about students or members—they’re about an agenda pushed by the PSEA.
In the end, the strike lasted only a few hours. I was tasked with making a doughnut run and wasn’t required to walk any picket lines or publicly stand against my community. I was glad for that—these families had been supporting us so faithfully over the years.
I decided to stay in the union a little longer.
The second watershed issue was the first-term election of Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014. I received two letters from my union: one told me to vote for Tom Wolf (and therefore change my political affiliation). The second letter was addressed to my husband, telling him to join me in voting for Tom Wolf.
I found out later that the second letter was one that Mary Trometter, another educator, also received and subsequently litigated. These missives were infuriating—such electioneering basically told me my teaching ability was totally dependent on who I voted for.
I was determined to leave the union at this point but could not get out due to a “maintenance of membership” clause in my contract, which stated I had a narrow window around contract negotiations when I could leave. Since our latest contract was negotiated quickly, I had missed that window.
Lawsuits over these narrow resignation windows are everywhere right now—and not just among teachers. Americans for Fair Treatment Pennsylvania Director Keith Williams recently said, “We regularly hear from union members trapped behind resignation windows. It’s the unions’ trump card to keep their hands on workers’ paychecks.”
I was one of those trapped workers who contacted Americans for Fair Treatment.
Now, I am not waiting any longer. I have handed in my resignation. My position on teachers’ unions is one I wish I’d been firm on years ago. I wasn’t sure then. But I am now.
To learn more about Americans for Fair Treatment, visit www.americansforfairtreatment.org