Knowing rights empowers workers
Rob Brough and John Cress, two Pennsylvania public school teachers, had grown concerned over the politicization of their teachers union and wanted to quit. They just didn't know how hard it would be.
In Pennsylvania, leaving the union gets complicated for teachers and other government workers. Brough's and Cress' union denied their resignations, citing what's called a “maintenance of membership” clause written into most school district and other government worker contracts.
The unfair provision means union members generally can leave their union only during a narrow two-week window at the end of the three- or four-year union contract. So Brough and Cress had to submit their resignation by Oct. 1 or they were required to stay in the union for another full year.
The men are frustrated. Brough explained his opposition to his union: “Their agenda and political ideals are counter to what I believe and it is a kick in the teeth every time my dues are withdrawn from my hard-earned paycheck and handed off to some organization that I would never contribute to of my own free will.”
The teachers' case demonstrates how important it is to inform union members about how and when they can leave their unions. Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Harrisburg, has been doing just that through Free to Teach, a project designed to empower public educators. Free to Teach is how Brough and Cress learned of their rights. Now a 30-state effort will do the same through National Employee Freedom Week, which runs through Saturday.
State by state, the information campaign will tell union members of their options, whether that is remaining a member, resigning, or leaving and becoming a religious or other conscientious objector. Once they understood their options, Brough and Cress decided to become fee payers.
In Pennsylvania, a fee payer can be forced to pay money (a fee) to his government workplace union to keep his job. By law, fair share fees must cover only contract negotiations and worker representation. Unions cannot use money from these fees for political or ideological causes, as they do with members' dues.
A full-time teacher currently pays $489 to the Pennsylvania State Education Association and $180 to the National Education Association — $669 in total dues. If that same teacher became a fee payer, he would pay only $431 a year. In other words, as much as 35 percent of a teacher's union dues fund political or ideological causes and issues unrelated to representing workers.
Knowing the options about union membership empowers workers. Armed with information, Brough and Cress are now fighting to have their union resignations accepted so they can immediately become fee payers and stop paying for union politics. And there's no shortage of people interested in taking this path: According to a poll conducted by National Employee Freedom Week, 33 percent of union households nationally would opt out of union membership, along with 27.6 percent of Pennsylvania's union households.
Pennsylvania has a long way to go to fully protect workers' individual liberties. Still, learning about their options has given the teachers courage to act. Ultimately, National Employee Freedom Week is about empowering workers to exercise their rights. But they can't do so if they don't know what those rights are.
Priya Abraham is a senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Inside the Steelers: Rookie linebacker Chickillo continues to excel
- Police: Escaped Armstrong County inmate armed, dangerous homicide suspect
- Pirates bolster bullpen by trading for former closer Soria
- Bubble soccer bounces its way into Western Pa. sports venues
- Since 1969, Pine resident Fitzgerald’s garden has flourished
- Fashion FYI: RAW: Pittsburgh showcase features over 40 artists
- Starkey: Garoppolo baffles Steelers
- Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
- Stocks bounce back from big losses to close relatively flat
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin says Latrobe session won’t differ from normal practice
- NFL notebook: Brady’s lawsuit will be heard in New York