The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the Janus case that public school teachers who want nothing to do with private organizations called teachers unions will no longer be forced to pay them part of their salaries. Kind of sounds American, doesn’t it? If I don’t agree with the views of any private group’s beliefs, whether it’s the NRA, PETA, AARP or some flat earth society, I shouldn’t have to give them my hard-earned money if I don’t want to.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher how we ever even needed such a self-evident confirmation of free speech and freedom of association rights in the first place. But unbeknownst to many, teachers unions have extracted countless millions of dollars from unwilling teachers in 21-states for decades under a deeply flawed, convoluted 1977 precedent called the Abood decision, or Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. It asked teachers unions themselves to separate which expenses they considered to be truly political from the other expenses that were only somewhat political. Based on these subjective and self-serving assessments, the unions reliably concluded that a majority of their activities should be charged to even those who wanted nothing to do with their club.
At the same time many public schools were proudly implementing new anti-bullying policies to protect students, some of the worst victims of harassment and intimidation were other educators.
The unions’ message to these teachers was, “Sorry, but even if you hate us, you’re still required to pay us 80-90% of the union dues, or roughly $1,000/year. Have a nice day, and by the way, we hate you now too and will make that quite clear to your colleagues.” It’s a twisted irony that at the same time many public schools were proudly implementing new anti-bullying policies to protect students, some of the worst victims of harassment and intimidation were other educators opposed to union groupthink. When a middle school teacher in Michigan said she wanted to leave the union, she had to sue after being threatened with a collections agency. Earlier this year, about a dozen Florida principals also sued a teachers union, saying they’d been bullied and even threatened with castration.
The thuggery and intimidation can extend to non-educators too, like when two Chicago teachers union officials were arrested for battery of a journalist at a public march. Or when a teachers union stormed a school board meeting in Minneapolis. Or when a New Jersey school board member got 10 flat tires after posting information about teachers union agency fees.
Meanwhile, teachers unions take positions on all kinds of issues without first bothering to ask the members to vote. A public school teacher in New York City said she felt “humiliated to be affiliated” with her union, after it publicly supported an Al Sharpton march that was critical of the police. And although many teachers oppose giving lifetime tenure to their colleagues after just a few years on the job, protecting the unworthy has become a defining teachers union function. That culture culminated this year in a New Jersey union official bragging on hidden camera about protecting the job of a teacher who had sex with a student.
Indeed, whether it’s healthcare policy, immigration rules, or siding with Hillary Clinton over both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, there’s been no limit on the non-classroom issues for which teachers unions have spent members’ money without their permission.
Will union apologists say these examples are mere anecdotes, and so no number of them proves a broader problem? Sure, but if so they might want to also explain why in Michigan, a full quarter of public school teachers bolted from the union as if it were a jailbreak as soon as that state changed it laws to give them the right to fully quit.
If we truly believe teachers should be respected as professionals, the laws about their group affiliations should treat them as such.
There’s another important irony here. While the Janus decision is being mentioned as a blow to national and state teachers unions, it might actually turn out to be the best thing for union locals, many of which may become more responsive to members in an effort to keep them. Locals, for example, might decide to use their members’ money, well… locally, rather than continuing to send most of it to far-away state capitals and Washington, DC. This re-localizing of unions seems like a good idea at least to one Michael Thulen who wrote that he hopes to “pay dues to a truly local union that would listen to my fellow brothers and sisters where I work.” That’s why he isn’t just a supporter of Janus and the right of workers to fully quit unions, he’s also happens to be president of AFSCME New Jersey Local 3790.
I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for the Janus ruling that will allow teachers and other government workers to have the freedom to spend their own money as they see fit, whether they choose to help family members in need, support charities, save for kids’ college, take a much-needed vacation… or yes, give it to unions. Defending a teacher’s right to join a union goes hand-in-hand with defending his/her right not to join a union. If we truly believe teachers should be respected as professionals, the laws about their group affiliations should treat them as such.