Praise the teacher, not the union

Kids return to schools under monopoly bargaining

In the coming days, millions of students and teachers will go back to school for another nine months of homework, exams and extracurricular activities. But there is a worm in the apple: forced unionism, which allows teachers-union officials to gain an increasingly stifling grip on America's educational system.

Al Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union, once remarked, "When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren." Yet many teachers are not even happy with this union "representation."

Across this nation, 2 million K-12 public-school teachers, or about 65 percent of all such teachers, according to a new study by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, labor in a workplace where they must accept a single union as their bargaining agent, like it or not.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut and 26 other states where teachers' dues payment may be compelled, 1.3 million teachers pay forced union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The forced dues, typically between $700 and $1,000 for a full-time teacher every year, are divvied up by the various local, state and national teachers-union affiliates, the AFT and National Education Association (NEA).

Under monopoly bargaining, a major culprit behind our lackluster public school system, individual teachers lose their right to negotiate with the principal or school board. Instead, once union agents gain the power of "exclusive representation" to negotiate wages and work rules, it becomes illegal for teachers to have a direct bargaining relationship with their employers or to be judged on their individual merit.

Unfortunately, the union hierarchy often cares more about filling its coffers and pursuing its political agenda than creating an atmosphere that rewards quality teachers who educate, inspire and serve as role models for our youth.

For example, union officials are notorious for blocking merit-pay proposals, which would allow the best teachers to make more money. And teachers-union bosses appear to be more willing to let our nation's children fall further behind the world in math and science than let school boards offer higher compensation to attract candidates for hard-to-fill teaching jobs in these crucial subjects.

The NEA and AFT union empires use part of their $1.3 billion in annual forced dues revenues to fund radical ideological activities.

And this does not sit well with many teachers. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation provides free legal aid to thousands of teachers and other employees who object to their compulsory fees funding the political agenda of union bosses, whose ultimate goal, according to one former NEA official, is "to reorder the priorities of the United States of America."

Foundation-won Supreme Court rulings establish that, while teachers unfortunately can be forced to pay some dues, they cannot lawfully be forced to fund nonbargaining activities such as politics. But teachers-union officials routinely make it as difficult as possible for teachers to exercise this right.

An individual should be free to join any association of his or her choosing, be it a union, a political party or a church, or none. Fortunately, there are truly professional, nonunion alternatives out there, such as the Association of American Educators. These groups are totally voluntary. So naturally, they are far more accountable to their members.

Even so, it is unconscionable that teachers are forced, as a condition of employment, to support unions such as the NEA, which heavily fund political activity often at odds with individual teachers' deeply-held political or religious beliefs.

Teachers may have the right to refuse to fund union activism, but fighting a union to get money back can be difficult, and back-door procedures do not reliably protect the individual liberty of our children's educators.

Our teachers deserve better. That's why it's time to end forced unionism altogether. No teacher should be forced to join or pay money to a union just to teach our children.

- Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


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