National Employee Freedom Week is a great time to reflect upon how fortunate Kansans are to have workplace freedom in a right-to-work state, one in which individuals are given the choice as to whether or not to join a union. As a former public school teacher in Kansas, I worked in an environment with significant union influence. The National Education Association (NEA) was the bargaining agent with the local school board on behalf of all teachers, union members or not. The union negotiated things like how much we were paid, fringe benefits, work hours, yearly schedule, all the way down to things like the length of recess and the dress code. Is it appropriate that a government union bargain collectively with a publicly elected body? These statements put that question into perspective.
“The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer (the people) in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” – George Meany, former President of the AFL-CIO.
Collective bargaining is not all they did. The union was very active in politics, using member dues to advance their political agenda…even if it wasn’t my agenda or that of other members. I was also witness to several instances when just the threat of union intervention kept principals from doing the right thing by disciplining and/or recommending teachers for termination. It’s no secret that the process, one negotiated by the union, keeps actions from being initiated.
And, what is supposed to be a non-political organization is anything but. It seems fundamentally wrong that a public sector, taxpayer supported union such as NEA spends time and member dues on lobbying to get more taxpayer dollars.
Despite teaching in a state in which union membership is a choice, I was shocked at the number of teachers I knew who believed they had to join the union. Many were scared into joining by heavy- handed tactics such as making teachers, especially the new ones, believe that a lawsuit or termination was always lurking and only the union could protect them.
The bottom line is that people need to take the responsibility to make their own decision regarding union membership, with the understanding of what’s best for themselves and their families. After all, that’s the essence of freedom – a freedom that trusts individuals to succeed on their own merits and doesn’t treat them like interchangeable parts. In this case, making for better teachers and ultimately for more successful students.