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When a friend of mine was young, his family kept their dog close to home with one of those invisible fences. It delivered a mild shock to the dog’s collar when he crossed its line. One day, the fence posts shorted out. But the dog still refused to cross the shock-less border. There was nothing keeping him fenced in but his mind.
A good number of teachers are in a similar position. More than a third of union employees would like to leave their union, according to a survey from the National Employee Freedom Week Coalition. Even in forced-union states, all union employees are free to leave. But many union employees don’t know that—or don’t know how. National Employee Freedom Week is celebrated to raise and answer those questions every year in early August. This year, it’s August 10 through 16.
This year’s National Employee Freedom Week occurs during an ongoing conversation about union membership, which has spiked recently because of some high-profile cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts in California and New York. These court cases may remove some constraints on government employees such as public school teachers who want to leave their unions.
California may be the hottest state for anti-union lawsuits. In June, a judge concluded union- demanded state laws that require firing the newest teachers first, rather than the worst teachers, hurt poor and minority kids most by sticking them with the least-experienced and least-desired teachers. Another pending lawsuit may end the practice of forcing nonunion teachers to pay union fees. Retired California teacher Larry Sand, who runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says Friedrichs et al. v. CTA “is on a path to reach the U.S Supreme Court within a year or two.” It argues forcing nonunion teachers to continue paying unions violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.
In California, as is typical among the 23 other forced-union states, teachers who resign from their union don’t have to pay the portion of their dues that would go to politics, but they still have to pay an inflated fee for union bargaining, whether they want union representation or not. Teachers also have to send a resignation every year by a certain date to get that portion of their money back from their own paychecks. In Nevada, teachers have to send that letter every year between July 1 and July 15 or the union will reenroll them and start deducting its fees from a teacher’s every paycheck. This is an area of teacher freedom where the fence is not just in their minds. It’s real, and it stings.
If the Supreme Court sides with the 10 teachers suing the California Teachers Union, it could put an end to such shenanigans nationwide. That is a real possibility: A ruling this spring from the Supreme Court rebuked Illinois unions for automatically enrolling home health care workers who didn’t want to be unionized.
Until the nationwide policy change a Supreme Court decision would bring, states are making waves. The most visible in recent years has been Wisconsin. After Gov. Scott Walker allowed union employees to opt out of membership, teachers union membership dropped by half.
In some states, the barrier to greater control over one’s paycheck and career exists only in people’s minds. In others, it’s very real. The more people exercise and seek freedom, the less time it will take for all such fences to be torn down.