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Unions Should Ask Before Taking

Teachers deserve to have their voices heard without having to pay for union politics. That’s why it’s disturbing to learn that the Idaho Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA), a state law that requires unions to get annual written authorization from their members before using their dues for politics, is being challenged as unconstitutional by the Idaho Education Association (IEA).

VCA seems to be a reasonable law. Unions should ask their members before taking money from their paychecks for politics. Rescinding the VCA would provide the IEA with a goldmine to fund political activities and candidates, which the IEA admits is spent mostly on Democratic Party issues and candidates. Should IEA win its lawsuit, teachers will be required to pay hundreds of dollars for state and national union politics from their paychecks, regardless of their willingness to do so. This is outrageously unfair.

VCA protects those teachers who want to pay for representation but don’t want to pay for union politics. But that’s not enough for the IEA. It wants more from its members and is willing to compromise many of its members’ beliefs by having them pay for the union’s political platform--over and above what they pay for collective bargaining.

It’s true that teachers who do not support union politics can choose to not join the union. In doing so, however, they must give up significant member benefits, including voting on their collective bargaining agreements, selecting negotiators, electing union officers, and voting on union constitution and bylaw amendments. While the non-member teachers are covered by the union’s collective bargaining agreement, they are denied a voice in decisions affecting their workplace.

The IEA claims that because union membership is voluntary, that “every penny” of a teacher’s dues is given voluntarily. This is false. In fact, teachers are obligated to pay for the state and national union’s political expenditures in order to exercise their local collective bargaining rights. This is coercion, not voluntarism.

Even when a teacher is a union member, there are plenty of documented cases of union abuses for those teachers who do not support the union’s politics. This includes lack of support for grievances and due process rights, frivolous lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, organized ostracism, intimidation, and shunning by IEA members as well as blackballing.

Divisive union politics and unethical hardball tactics destroy the educational environment of schools by damaging teacher relationships and the teamwork essential for good education. They make the union’s so-called zero tolerance for harassment and commitment to respect and diversity little more than hypocritical pretense.

Union bullying and politics reveals the explicit need for non-partisan, professional educators’ organizations. One example is Northwest Professional Educators, a non-union educators’ association that provides guaranteed job protection benefits that are not dependent on a teacher sharing an organization’s political views. Teachers need a choice in a professional association now more than ever.

If forced politics were not part of the union equation, teachers could unify harmoniously around joint professional interests. The Idaho Voluntary Contributions Act protects employees from surrendering their political views in order to obtain the full benefit of union representation. VCA should be protected.

The court is currently reviewing this case. One can only hope that the U.S. District Court judge will uphold the rights of Idaho’s teachers to have a voice in local bargaining without being exploited by state and national unions for their unrelated political agendas.

Cindy Omlin, Executive Director

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