This week has been dubbed National Employee Freedom Week, a critical national effort to inform employees of the freedom they have regarding opting out of union membership and making the decision about whether union membership is right for them. It's also a chance for Utah teachers to exercise their right to choose the association that best serves them and their profession.
Here's why it's important: A new poll released by National Employee Freedom Week shows that 44.6 percent of Utah's union households would leave their unions if given the chance. Nationally, 33 percent of respondents said the same thing.
Many of this number are undoubtedly teachers. Thankfully, if you are a Utah educator or work in a school and are frustrated by the political agenda of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers or your local union, you have a choice to leave.
For years, educators have joined teachers' unions thinking their money was going to advance their profession. Unfortunately, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have grown from respected education associations to behemoth special interests that do little to advance teachers as professionals.
Educators nationwide have grown increasingly frustrated in recent years by the partisan political spending, high dues and adversarial tactics of the labor unions. In 2012 alone, 140,000 educators left the NEA. This mass exodus has not only gained headlines but has left teachers questioning the value of pricey union membership.
While there are thousands of teachers who freely exercise their right to opt out of union membership, many educators are unaware of their options. Millions live in states or districts where they are required to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment. Many teachers are beholden to arbitrary drop periods surreptitiously extending their union membership or are misled to believe they have no other option than the union. Salacious teacher union-led tactics to keep members in the fold are legendary points of pride for union bosses.
Misinformation and convoluted opt-out requirements may be effective, but they're un-American.
As busy professionals focused on students in the classroom, teachers often experience roadblocks when seeking to leave the union. It's commonplace for the union to force an educator to continue paying dues because they were unable to meet one of the unions non-advertised drop periods for a certified letter. Others are just simply too busy or unaware that paying upwards of $100 a month on union dues is optional.
The fact is there are many teachers throughout the country who are no longer interested in paying dues and being represented by a politically charged labor union. Teachers are a national treasure; we should trust them to make decisions about where to spend their own money.
At the Association of American Educators (AAE), we hear daily from teachers who are begging to learn about their rights and are searching for union alternatives. It's no secret that the union does an excellent job of controlling the pipeline of information to teachers. Despite record-breaking growth among non-union teacher organizations, local AAE recruiters and state chapters have experienced tremendous hurdles in establishing equal treatment among competing associations. Teachers deserve the opportunity to make informed choices.
Utah's professional educators deserve an organization that they can be proud to be associated with and one that always places the interest of children first and foremost, while empowering teachers to exercise their right to make informed decisions on where to send their hard-earned dollars.
Gary Beckner is the founder and executive director of the Association of American Educators.