Cowardice more described me than the swashbuckling Jesus freak that lived deep in my heart. I guess I didn’t realize yet how powerful and wonderful my God is – how quick he is to aid his children who step out in defense of what is right. Rather than share with others my misgivings about the union, in 2012, I chose the easy route that brought as little attention to me as possible.
I asked the local union co-president if the liability insurance the union offers would be in my name. Her reply was uncertain, and took her off guard. (The “insurance” the union offers is not in individual teacher’s names) What happens if I don’t become a member, but a fair share fee payer? She said fair share fee payers’ money “goes to charity” and I’d be getting a “free ride”. (I’m not sure how being forced to pay dues was “free”, and fair share fees went to the union.) It struck me as odd with all the union training about recruitment that local union officers seemed in the dark about options then available for teachers. Specifically, the option to be an agency fee payer, and if applicable, a religious objector. This conveniently caused a situation where the misinformation and/or omission of teachers’ rights regarding membership and dues payments meant most teachers were backed into a corner, and just threw up their hands and joined.
At the time, even though a nonmember, I was forced to pay agency fees which supposedly covered the cost of my inclusion in the collective bargaining unit. The union’s insistence on being the exclusive bargainer meant they had to represent all employees in the unit. Yet, I was made to believe I wasn’t allowed to vote on my contract, hold office or voice concerns. I could then relate to the Boston Tea Party colonists long ago who were being taxed without representation.
My agency fee payer status changed to religious objector when it became obvious after continued research that union dues were used to fund causes out of line with my beliefs. The trouble was, I kept this change to myself out of fear. Other educators have similar beliefs, yet I feared union retribution enough to keep my religious objector standing to myself. “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” scripture says. I felt more like a cornered kitten.
God began to show me that loving my fellow teachers might be costly. Bringing to light truths about unions wouldn’t be met with smiles and acceptance. It would look more like tough love, more like rescuing a loved one from abuse they couldn’t acknowledge.
The origination of unions served a purpose. They accomplished for workers what needed to be done. The historical reasons for unions are just that – history. We’re in a new point on the timeline. Teachers’ unions must be understood for what they are right now, in the 21st century.
A decision about union membership ought not be done in fear; not in fear of legal action, nor out of fear of what colleagues think of you, nor the fear incited by union coercion. Just as a reaction to corona virus should be determined with rational thinking and reliance on moral standards, not fear, so should a decision about union membership. As of 2018, because of the Janus vs. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision, no public employee is required to pay dues to a union. You have a choice; don’t make it in fear.