This week the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by 10 California school teachers who feel their constitutional rights are being violated because they have to pay agency fees to the teachers’ union. The Supreme Court will have to decide if it wants to overturn its’ own decision from 1977 upholding union rights to collect fees from members who benefit from their collective bargaining agreements.
The thing is all teachers and many other professionals benefit from teachers unions negotiating fair wages, contract language, retirement benefits, sick and personal days as well as language that offers preparation or planning time. In our district there is a very wide discrepancy between the teachers covered under a professional contract and the para-professions who are not. The non-unionized para-professionals make only $14 dollars an hour after 10 or more years, only receive 5 sick days (thanks to federal law) and three personal days. The have no paid lunch , no collection of sick days or sick banks, and even pay significantly higher co-pays on the insurance premiums when they can least afford to do so. These para-professionals also lack any type of job protection and can be transferred, fired, or hours reduced at will.
The teachers on the other hand are paid on step, receive annual salary increases, have reduction in force protections based on seniority, pay a smaller premium share for the very same insurance and can collect up to 190 sick days over a career, half of which they can receive as a payment when they retire.
The other part of being a paying member of a teachers union is the protection, advocacy, and insurance that each individual member receives from the union. If a teacher does something the district doesn’t feel is appropriate, there is a process by which the teacher can contact representatives from the union to make sure their rights are not violated and the contract is followed. In severe circumstance the association even provides legal representation. Para-professionals can simply be fired.
Now we all know it’s no fun to have to pay for one more thing. But seriously If there is anything I am willing to pay for it is my union dues to assure that I am being treated like a professional that I am. Districts in schools wouldn’t pay teachers anywhere close to what we are currently earning if it weren’t for collective bargaining agreements. We see this every time we go to negotiate a new contract. The districts are always trying to take away some of the protected rights, benefits or freeze wages not add to them.
Teachers if given the option, may choose not to pay union dues as they see themselves as professionals who don’t need the protection of a union. Also, many of us are cheap! They would be sadly mistaken though, as we can see from the experience of those within our districts who are not unionized. The NEA and CEA both advocate not only for individual teachers but also for children, parents, and education policy that make sense and work for its members.