As you may know, the powerful teachers' union has a good thing going in twenty-three states: a teacher can decline to belong to the union, but they have to pay mandatory union dues anyway in order to qualify to teach.
The Supreme Court will hear a case challenging this policy on January 11. Harlan Eldrich is one of the California school teacher who filed the suit the Supreme Court will hear. Harlan, a veteran of thirty years teaching, belonged to the union for years. It was no big deal. But the union never offered much in the way of guidance in teaching and Harlan writes in today's Wall Street Journal about what it did offer:
Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a “survey,” asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues—about $1,000 a year—went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.
Harlan opted out of the portion of union dues that went for political activity–an option that the Supreme Court requires the union to provide. But Harlan learned that, in reality, it is very difficult to do this. And non-members are still required to pay a fee for the union's collective bargaining. But Harlan disagreed even with this aspect of the union's activities:
The union is bargaining for things I’d never support. For example, in my community, the union spends resources pushing for ever-higher teacher salaries. I’m in favor of a decent salary for teachers, but I think we are already well paid compared with everyone else in the Central Valley.
The area has endured hard times in the past few years. Parents of my students have been laid off, and many are still unemployed. Some have moved in with grandparents or other family members to stay afloat financially. Families struggle to make ends meet. That the union would presume to push, allegedly on my behalf, for higher salaries at the expense of smaller class sizes and avoiding teacher layoffs is preposterous.
The union also negotiates policies on discipline, grievances and seniority that make it difficult—if not impossible—to remove bad teachers. Over three decades I’ve seen my share of educators who should be doing something else. One example that sticks with me involved a colleague whom everyone, students and faculty, knew was incompetent. All on campus knew that he was biding his time until retirement.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, already has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Formerly a supporter of charter schools, which offer competition to unions and are thus deeply unpopular, Clinton has said in the wake of the endorsement that she now opposes them. So the issue of unions is going to be important this year.