Freedom for workers – teachers can get out of paying union dues

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
October 1, 2013

Freedom for workers – teachers can get out of paying union dues

Illinois public school teachers are required to financially support unions whether they want to or not. They don’t have much of a choice – it’s either pay up, or give up teaching. Union bosses claim to have teachers’ best interests in mind, but despite this they sometimes make outrageous demands that cost teachers their jobs....

Illinois public school teachers are required to financially support unions whether they want to or not. They don’t have much of a choice – it’s either pay up, or give up teaching.

Union bosses claim to have teachers’ best interests in mind, but despite this they sometimes make outrageous demands that cost teachers their jobs. That happened in Chicago in 2012, when the costs of a new teachers union contract led the Chicago Public Schools to close more than 50 schools and lay off close to 3,000 teachers and support staff.

And then there is the pension mess. The Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System has only 40 cents for every $1 that has been promised to teachers. Despite this, politicians in Springfield – including many who were supported by the unions – continue to bicker rather than solve the problem.

While teachers’ choices are limited, teachers are not powerless. There are two things teachers can do to limit how much of their paychecks go to the unions.

    1. Quit the union: A teacher can quit the union at any time. A nonmember is still required to pay an “agency fee” in place of regular dues, so there is not always immediate relief for his or her finances; but a nonmember is not required to join in other union activities. Simply quitting the union provides a measure of freedom and a way to make a statement.
    2. Invoke Hudson Rights: Often, agency fees are set at the same amount as regular union dues, but a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions allows agency feepayers to limit their agency fee to their share of the cost of workplace representation. That includes core union responsibilities such as collective bargaining, administering a contract and pursuing grievances. This legal principle, known as “Hudson Rights,” allows government employees to opt out of paying for extraneous union activity – especially union politics.

Teachers who exercise their Hudson Rights can have their agency fees reduced by about 20 percent. The process begins with a resignation letter to the local union. A sample letter can be downloaded below. When sending these letters, teachers must also send a copy to the school’s human resources department and should keep a copy for their own records.

Finally, teachers whose objection to their union is based on religious convictions may invoke their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Workers who want to take this route must be ready to explain their reasons for opposing the union in detail. The law calls for the accommodation of sincere religious beliefs, which, depending on the circumstances, may involve the full amount of union dues being redirected to a charity that is agreeable to both the union and the worker. Workers with religious objections to the union are advised to examine their conscience closely, and then to reach out to the union and employer before contacting the government for assistance.

Illinois puts teachers in a precarious position where they can be forced to pay for a union that doesn’t represent their beliefs and interests well. Teachers’ options are limited, but they do have some options. Teachers who want more information are welcome to contact the Illinois Policy Institute:

Paul Kersey
312-346-5700
pkersey@illinoispolicy.org

Sample letter to public union

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