Teachers can reclaim a portion of union dues

Paul Kersey

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

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
September 25, 2013

Teachers can reclaim a portion of union dues

School has been back in session for about a month now, and teachers across Illinois are busy making lesson plans, grading papers and more. But they should also be thinking about whether or not they want to contribute to their union’s political campaigns. Public school teachers are almost always forced to pay union dues or...

School has been back in session for about a month now, and teachers across Illinois are busy making lesson plans, grading papers and more. But they should also be thinking about whether or not they want to contribute to their union’s political campaigns.

Public school teachers are almost always forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Even if they aren’t formal union members, they are required to pay an “agency fee” that starts off the same as regular dues: same amounts, with no restrictions on how it is used. But under a string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, teachers (and all other unionized workers) can have their fees reduced according to how much the union spends on politics and other things that are outside of its core workplace representation duties.

Politics are a big deal to teachers unions. The Illinois Education Association acknowledges that 21 percent of its spending is outside of its core task of representing teachers at the bargaining table or in grievances. For a state affiliate with a total budget of more than $72 million, that works out to a political budget of almost $15 million.  The real amount could be a lot higher. In 1988 the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board found that more than 60 percent of Chicago Teachers Union dues were spent on politics and other extraneous things.

For teachers, regular union dues run in the neighborhood of $600 to $1,000 per year. Much of that money goes into political causes that individual teachers may not agree with. But the law allows teachers to get at least some of that money back so they can spend it as they see fit.

Public school teachers who want to quit their union and get their union fees reduced can use this sample letter.

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