Teachers who oppose CTU strike can opt out of union

Teachers who oppose CTU strike can opt out of union

Resigning from the union before the potential upcoming strike can protect teachers from union discipline.

Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, members voted Sept. 22-23 to authorize a strike – a move that could affect thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students. A strike date could be announced as early as Sept. 28. But not all teachers think going on strike is a good idea.

These teachers are in an unenviable position. If a teacher decides the needs of his or her students – or his or her own financial needs – should come before union priorities, the union can punish him or her. The types of penalties vary from union to union, but typically include fines or expulsion. CTU’s constitution and bylaws include a trial process following which a member can be suspended for one year (while still paying union dues) or expelled.

Fortunately, teachers facing this hard decision have a way out: They can become fair share payers.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, public employees – including teachers – can opt out of full union membership by becoming “fair share payers.” These employees still pay what is deemed to be their “fair share” toward the cost of union representation in negotiations with the employer, but the union cannot use fair share fees for political purposes, such as supporting candidates for office. In other words, these employees are no longer union members, but the union still represents them in contract negotiations.

As nonmembers, fair share payers are not subject to union authority or discipline.

As would be expected, unions do not make the process of becoming a fair share payer simple. In fact, the archaic process for opting out of union membership seems purposefully difficult.

When teachers initially join a union, they sign an authorization allowing the school district to deduct their union dues from their paychecks. To become fair share payers, members must revoke this dues deduction authorization.

But unions frequently place limitations on when members can revoke their dues deduction authorizations. For example, CTU’s contract explicitly limits members to a month-long window – in August of each year – to revoke their dues deduction authorizations.

While it may be too late for CTU members to become fair share payers before the potential strike, that doesn’t mean they are stuck. Teachers can resign from the union at any time. They may not be considered fair share payers yet, but their resignations would ensure that the union cannot punish them if they do not support the potential upcoming strike.

This means a teacher in Chicago could resign from the union now, thereby preventing the union from taking any disciplinary action against the teacher for failing to support the strike, and then the teacher could follow up by completing the dues deduction revocation in August 2017.

The union still represents teachers who become fair share payers in contract negotiations. Because unions successfully lobbied for a monopoly on representing workers, fair share payers are entitled to all rights secured in union-negotiated contracts.

This means nonmembers are guaranteed the wage increases, health insurance, pension contributions and anything else in the teacher contract. Nonmembers may no longer be eligible for the liability insurance the union previously provided, but teachers can find support in organizations such as the Association of American Educators, or AAE. AAE is an association of nonunion educators who “put the educational interests of students first and foremost.” Among other things, AAE provides liability insurance to its member teachers.

And although a nonmember teacher is still entitled to all the rights guaranteed under the contract, he or she is no longer subject to the union’s rules and disciplinary procedures. This means the union cannot not levy a fine or, as in the case of CTU, put a member through a trial process before determining whether to suspend or expel the member.

That’s good news for CPS teachers stuck between competing priorities: supporting their students (and themselves) and following union demands.

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