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AAE Gary Beckner Op-Ed: Teachers have right to weigh unions
posted by: Alana | August 18, 2014, 04:31 PM   

AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner's op-ed in the Providence Journal:

Back-to-school season is upon us. This celebrated time of year provides students and teachers with a welcome fresh start. It’s also the perfect time for teachers to consider whether union membership is right for them. Unfortunately in many cases, it’s also the only time for teachers to make this difficult decision. The nation’s teachers unions have done a remarkable job of restricting their members’ knowledge of and ability to exercise their rights regarding union membership.

For generations, educators have joined teachers unions with the trust that their money will help advance their profession. Unfortunately, unions like the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — the two largest teachers unions in the nation — have morphed from respected education associations into behemoth political special interest groups that have done just the opposite.

In recent years, educators nationwide have grown increasingly frustrated by the high dues, partisan political spending, and adversarial tactics of their labor unions. In 2013 alone, over 60,000 teachers left the NEA. This mass exodus has not only gained national headlines but has left teachers questioning the value of pricey union membership — which can run as high as $1,500 a year.

Sadly, there are millions of teachers who live in states or districts where they are required to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment. And while there are thousands of teachers in right-to-work states who freely exercise their right to opt out of union membership, union-created roadblocks and state laws that favor union bosses over teachers leave many educators unaware that they have options. Often they are beholden to arbitrary “drop” periods surreptitiously extending their union membership, or are fooled into believing there are no other organizations that can meet their needs as educators.

Across the country, teachers are constantly subject to laws and policies that keep them from making informed decisions. Misinformation and convoluted opt-out requirements may keep union dues flowing, but they’re anti-teacher choice.

America’s hardworking educators deserve more.

Take, for instance, Ronda Reinhardt, a public school teacher in Denver, Ronda spent years as part of her local NEA chapter. After examining her options and selecting membership in a professional association, she attempted to terminate her union membership. Unfortunately for her, she missed the unadvertised drop period by just a few days. By the time she was allowed to drop union membership the following year, she had to fork over $800 to an organization she no longer wanted to be a part of or risk a damaging lawsuit.

Freedom of choice for teachers like Ronda is at the heartbeat of why the Association of American Educators was established as a non-union alternative to teacher labor unions. Our organization is adamantly opposed to any policy where teachers are forced to join — or pay fees to — a private organization just for the privilege of taking a position in a public school. We believe teachers are educated professionals who should decide whether union membership matches their personal budget and beliefs. We owe it to our teachers to put them in control of their own paychecks.

The fact is worker freedom is an American value. The data on this point is clear: A new national poll by National Employee Freedom Week has found that nearly 83 percent of Americans say union workers should be able to opt out without force or penalty. Americans support freedom of choice for all employees.

Our country’s teachers are a national treasure; they should not be kept from exercising their rights. The fact remains that educators — as well as the rest of the nation’s employees — deserve to know what rights they have. Only then can they exercise their right to make informed decisions on where to send their hard-earned dollars. This new school year, it’s not just our students who need to learn that knowledge is power.

Gary Beckner is the founder and executive director of the Association of American Educators.

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