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Gary Beckner op-ed on Union Battle
posted by: Alix | February 24, 2011, 04:24 PM   

AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner op-ed as featured on the Washington Times website:

There's no doubt that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his proposals have initiated a long-overdue dialogue about state budget crises and the role public-sector unions play. The upheaval in Wisconsin appears to be the beginning of a domino effect for about a half-dozen states looking to rein in spending and give public school teachers a greater choice about whether or not to join a union.

Union members, including many teachers, have been crowding the statehouse in Madison to protest proposed legislative changes. Union leaders, however, are focused less on teachers paying more for health care and pensions and concentrating more on the union's ability to bargain collectively and collect dues.

These union leaders are dismissive of the fact that there are thousands of teachers in the Badger State who would rather not be represented by a union and do not want to pay exorbitant dues. What about their rights?

Wisconsin law allows compulsory unionism. That means public school teachers in Wisconsin are forced to pay the union - a private organization with a partisan political agenda - simply for the privilege of having a job.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) agreed that its 98,000 members will pay more for health care and pensions - as long as bargaining and forced dues are preserved. That certainly calls into question what the WEAC is really protecting - its members or its source of income. In fact, it will fight to the end to preserve the holy grail of unionism - forced dues.

Forced dues are serious money for the teachers unions. According to data compiled by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research in 2008, the two teachers unions - the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) - collected $2 billion in union dues in 2007 through their state affiliates. Out of that $2 billion, $1.3 billion came from states that allow forced dues.

Twenty-two states have labor laws similar to Wisconsin's. In 2007, those 23 states employed 52 percent of the nation's teachers but were the source of the vast majority of all the money collected by the NEA and AFT. Not surprisingly, union dues are much higher in states that have forced unionism - sometimes twice as high as in states where teachers have the option not to pay the union. In Wisconsin, teachers pay more than $800 per year.

The fact is that the unions are fighting to protect themselves and their income, not their membership. While the teachers unions claim to be pro-teacher, what could be more democratic than allowing each person to decide if she or he wants to be a member of that union? By teachers choosing union membership, the union truly would be more representative of its membership, but of course, it would collect far fewer dollars for the union itself.

Under forced unionism, the union speaks for the member even if that member disagrees with the union's agenda. There's nothing fair, transparent or democratic about the current system. No teacher should be forced to pay a union to have employment - and especially not when that union takes political positions that clearly conflict with many teachers' personal views and beliefs.

Furthermore, the proposed legislation does not outlaw collective bargaining. Instead, unions in Wisconsin will be able to bargain on behalf of those who choose to pay for their services. The change is that the state law would no longer force workers, including teachers, to pay union dues. So, in effect, the unions are fighting to protect their monopoly and, naturally, monopolists never want to lose their monopoly.

The shenanigans of the WEAC and some of its members over the past few days have been nothing short of an embarrassment to the teaching profession. Strikes, sickouts and bogus doctors' notes have no place among professionals.

A nonunion educators organization called the Association of American Educators (AAE) was founded in 1994 for teachers who do not identify with the teachers unions or their tactics. AAE is adamantly against forced unionism, believing that all teachers, as college-educated professionals, can decide for themselves whether or not they want to join a union. Like members of all other professions, teachers can sign and work under professional contracts that offer protections and benefits, yet they don't need a union as a middleman. This practice already is standard in seven right-to-work states. Further, thousands of teachers do not support the liberal platform of the unions, including political contributions and support for controversial social issues.

Undoubtedly, teachers across America should be evaluating whether teachers unions really represent them as professionals. It's important for them to know that they have a choice in membership. In fact, there's nothing wrong with giving teachers a choice - unless, of course, you are a union leader.

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

Comment below.
Comments (5)Add Comment
to Kris and Jason
written by responder, May 16, 2011

You both refer to "studies" and "research" to back up that union schools are better than non-union schools. Please provide links or more precise evidence, otherwise you are just tossing out allegations.

Kris, you assume that all believe the union-negotiated contract provides "benefits" to all. Is it possible there are teachers, particularly those with advanced degrees or who are newer to they system who actually lose more via the negotiated contract than their colleagues? I believe in fairness and it is only fair that those who want to pay for the union be free to do so, and those who don't be free not to. The union is less responsive to membership if they're guaranteed to be paid by all teachers, whether they're supportive or not.

Jason, you make a number of allegations regarding AAE support for Governor Walker. How is AAE "stealing" members away from the union? AAE is a voluntary organization that teachers like myself can join or leave at our leisure. Your union forces teachers to pay, whether they want to support the union or not. That is un-American. And you assume the union, because it is made up of teachers, is the voice of the teachers and advocates on behalf of the students. Does it help the students that the teachers union negotiates to make ITSELF the health insurance provider for the teachers, rather than the state insurance plan? That costs the state money, which goes into the pockets of the Wisconsin Teachers Union. Tell me how that helps students...
written by Kris in Wisconsin, May 14, 2011

My union sees the larger picture. Without a group of us working together, there will be more and more cuts to education, incrementally wearing down the strength of Wisconsin schools. They were right to concentrate on the significant battle. Unionized schools do better then non-unionized schools according to Harvard research. You raise the issue of fairness: is it fair, too, for teachers to enjoy the benefits of union negotiations and not pay for the cost of those negotiators?
Unions do support educators
written by Jason Wisconsin, May 13, 2011

The AAE is simply spreading the same pile of garbage that Governor Walker is using here in WI. Unions are not a bunch of thugs. They are dedicated to improving education by giving educators a voice in the process. Who has a better understanding of what is best for kids, educators working with kids daily, or board members, community activists, and administrators who may not have been in a classroom with kids for years? The Union improves education by giving educators collective strength to make their voice heard. Studies show that quality education correlates with strong unions. Let's call it like it is...the AAE is doing precisely what it accuses WEAC of...taking advantage of a situation and siding with a radical Governor to try and capitalize by stealing members away from the union to pay AAE dues and help themselves. Go Unions!
my wife's a union teacher
written by chris, cleveland, oh, February 26, 2011

i love the fact my wife has a good job she loves and makes a good living wage as a teacher in a struggling school system, but hate the fact that her union doesn't really show the care for her and other teachers that a union really should. i am not totally anti-union, but agree there is much more benefits in the right to work states then there is in the forced unionism states. i fully support the senate bill here in ohio to restrict collective bargaining and bring in merit pay because the good teachers, like her, deserve they pay they receive, but we all need to realize that forced unionism is wrong. i thought that the liberal mindset was pro-choice? is forced unionism pro-choice? doesn't really sound like it is and especiallly when it comes to their own pocketbooks! i'm not sure if you have an affiliate in ohio, but it would certainly be something i'd readily support to have and i hope she would too!
written by Ronnie, Arkansas, February 25, 2011

I am from the right to work state of Arkansas and chose to join a state affiliate of AAE many years ago. I have seen over the years that school boards and administrators are more than willing to sit down and discuss issues with teachers who care about helping education not some heavy weight union rep who gets paid the big bucks to try to protect the status quo at all costs. School districts want innovative ideas and solutions to their problems which many times requires compromises for everyone. I feel that good ideas and solutions come from teaching professionals and not from unions. It is my hope that all teachers can one day decide not to join a union if they so choose and will be able to speak for themselves instead of be forced to pay a union to speak for them even though the teacher may not agree with the union.

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