My view: Forced unionism is a cash cow

By Charity Smith

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Teacher freedom took a giant step back in Ohio on Election Day. A referendum campaign was successfully mounted by teachers unions to overturn a sweeping law aimed at ending forced unionism and curbing union power and monopolies. Due to record-breaking local and national union spending, teachers in Ohio will continue to be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

What may seem unthinkable to teachers here in Utah will once again remain a harsh reality for educators in Ohio. Unlike the cost of union membership in right-to-work states like Utah, teachers in Ohio and other forced union states are required to pay upwards of $1,000 each year — nearly twice the union dues in our state. That's real money extracted from real families for the purpose of union politicking. Can you imagine choosing to pay that exorbitant amount under your own free will?

Despite what you may have heard from union leaders, the Ohio law did not take away "rights" or "union bust" — quite the contrary. This law contained an important component that reduced the superpower status of the teachers' unions by ending forced unionism — the practice in which one is required to pay the union just to have a job. In no way does the legislation eliminate unions; rather, it reined in its ability to forcibly collect dues from teachers.

Forced unionism is a guaranteed cash cow for labor unions. According to National Institute for Labor Relations Research, 40 percent of the nation's teachers pay 65 percent of dues collected by the teachers' unions. In real numbers, teachers unions collect approximately $2.5 billion dollars each year from teachers and about $1.6 billion comes from teachers' paychecks by forced dues.

To protect this pipeline of cash, the Ohio unions spent $30 million to defeat this measure, which equates to approximately $15 per vote. To raise money to fight the bill, the Ohio Education Association levied an additional $54 per member, meaning that every member was forced to pay even if they disagreed with the union's position on the law because of compulsory dues.

The fact is, Ohio union leaders and their cohorts nationally are making an extremely lucrative career out of using the "interests" of teachers to shield themselves from the taxpayer microscope. The unions stood to lose tens of millions of dollars in compulsory dues if this bill succeeded, and they knew it was a fight for their very existence in the state. Under similarly controversial legislation in Wisconsin this year, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a sister organization to the Utah Education Association and the Ohio Education Association, had to layoff half of its staff because Wisconsin teachers are no longer forced to pay union dues, further proving that the monopoly model is only sustainable under force.

In recognizing the injustice of forced unionism, reflect on your own union membership status here at home. Once upon a time, teachers unions served both teachers and students well. However, today, the National Education Association (NEA) and its state operation, the Utah Education Association (UEA), have grown into a behemoth special-interest group that funds an agenda that is out of step with Utahns, including the support of controversial social issues, giving millions of dollars of teachers dues to liberal advocacies and funding campaigns that force money from teachers' paychecks. No longer is this your mother's union or an organization that keeps dues here in Utah.

As a former classroom teacher, I'm proud to have joined hands with another teacher organization that both represents the needs of Utah's educators and reflects our values. It's called the Association of American Educators (AAE), of which I now serve as membership director here in Utah. As a national organization for educators, AAE provides benefits and services teachers need with a real emphasis on professionalism that is missing from today's unions.

Utah is hardly Ohio, but as a former teacher looking to make a difference for the teachers of our state, I'm proud stand with the non-union educator movement.

Charity Smith is a former classroom teacher and membership director for the Association of American Educators in Utah. She resides in Bountiful.

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