Guest post by Kristi Lacroix
Note: While Rick is away, guest contributors from the Association of American Educators (AAE) will be writing entries this week. AAE is a professional association for educators and the nation’s largest non-union teachers’ association (as well as the fastest-growing of its kind). Today’s guest blogger is Kristi Lacroix, a regional membership director for AAE. She’ll be stepping back in to the classroom this fall as an English teacher in a STEM charter school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and she looks forward to “cage-busting” her way through the school year.
As a veteran educator and advocate for teacher freedom, I was thrilled to hear that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the Rebecca Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) case this fall. Their decision could send shock-waves through the teaching profession and once and for all empower teachers to make educated decisions about union membership.
Rebecca is a true freedom fighter for choice. A 27-year teacher in California, her lawsuit challenges the CTA’s ability to force education employees to pay union fees as a condition of employment. She maintains that all union activity is inherently political and that teachers should never be compelled to pay a private organization to maintain a job in the public schools.
I’m grateful Rebecca is standing up for this cause. As a public school teacher in Wisconsin, I too experienced years under compulsory unionism. My career has reflected an evolution of sorts, and I’m proud to stand behind Rebecca and the thousands and thousands of teachers who are not interested in paying high dues to a hyper-political industrial-style labor union.
In the early days of my career, I spent several years as part of my local NEA leadership team. I joined the union anticipating I was joining an organization that spoke for me. I attended countless meetings and even attended national NEA conferences.
After spending time on the inside, I started to voice reform-minded opinions, including support for public charter schools and impactful teacher evaluations. I believed in being a “cage-busting” teacher, and I wanted the opinions of true classroom teachers to help shape public policy in my community. I was saddened to realize that not only were the unions serving as a road block to education reform, they were throwing support behind issues that had absolutely nothing to do with education, including abortion and D.C. statehood.
I immediately attempted to terminate my membership. At the time, Wisconsin’s forced union status left me with no choice but to continue to pay a private organization hundreds of dollars simply for the privilege of keeping my job. While I did receive a small refund, the year-long process of certified letters and fuzzy deadlines was cumbersome and downright insulting. I wanted nothing more than to be free from the union and negotiate my own contract as an independent professional.
Unfortunately, my story is far too common. Compulsory unionism and forced dues are serious business for the teacher labor unions nationwide. In 2010 alone, teachers unions collected $2 billion in union dues. $1.3 billion of those dues came from the 22 states and the District of Columbia, where teachers are required to pay. What’s more is that union dues are highest in states where there is compulsory unionism — sometimes twice as much as compared to states where teachers have the option not to join the union. In Wisconsin, I paid upwards of $1,000 a year. Interestingly enough, dues have gone down since 2011 when the law changed and the local NEA chapter saw membership plummet.
I passionately believe that teachers should be able to decide for themselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union. As college-educated professionals, we deserve ultimate control over our hard-earned paychecks.
During my personal ordeal, I found a non-union professional alternative to the NEA, called the Association of American Educators (AAE), an organization that truly represents their members’ views. As a new member I was able to participate in a national membership survey that found 98% of teachers supportive of teacher freedom of choice.
Similarly, National Employee Freedom Week (August 16-22, 2015), a national effort to inform employees of the freedom they have regarding opting out of union membership, polled the public about these same issues. Nearly 83% of Americans believe that employees should be free to exit unions without penalty. Remarkably, nearly 29% of union members would opt out of membership if given the chance. This is particularly important for America’s educators, who have the unique opportunity to exercise their right to choose a non-union association that best serves them and their profession.
The fact is Friedrichs is a simple case that will have a lasting impact. Let’s put teachers in the driver’s seat and hold all organizations accountable to their members. Teachers deserve freedom of association.
The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.