Information for Teachers

What Should Teachers Know About Their Rights?

As established by Congress and confirmed by the Supreme Court, no teacher is required to be a member of any union. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, however, teachers can be required to pay the union an “agency fee” for the non-negotiable privilege of union representation. Teachers must pay this fee even if they believe they would be better served under, for example, an employment contract that rewards good teaching. This fee costs the same as union dues, minus the cost of the union’s direct political giving (agency fee payers still must shell out for internal union communications, which are often highly political). Agency fee payers thus do not pay for a union’s political contributions, and they cannot be fined (as union members can) for continuing to teach when a union strikes schools.

In right-to-work states, dissenting teachers do not have to pay anything to unions at all. Regardless of a state’s right-to-work status, religious objectors to joining a teachers union are allowed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to direct all of the money they would pay in dues to a (non-religious) charity.

In states that require teachers to join the local union and pay the agency fees, it is still possible for teachers to recoup the non-agency fees. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring individuals to pay the union more than the cost of collective bargaining (e.g., the cost of hiring negotiators, lawyers, etc.) was a violation of their First Amendment rights. In order to recover the rest of their dues, union members are required to submit a letter to their union asking for reimbursement. The process for recovering this money varies from state to state, but here are sample form letters for New York (this link opens a Microsoft Word document) and California. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has more information on how to exercise your “Beck Rights” at this link.

Liability Insurance

One benefit that can be tied to union membership, however, is liability insurance, which protects teachers in the event of a lawsuit. But there are non-union professional associations that sell their members insurance at prices far below typical union dues, without the political or educational entanglements that union membership often brings.

Professional Associations

The two largest non-union professional associations for teachers both swear off politics and hefty dues, charging teachers for liability insurance and not much more.

Kicking Out Your Union

Teachers who no longer want a union to represent them — whether it’s because the union is obstructionist, corrupt, or just plain inept — are entitled to seek an election to determine if a majority of their fellow teachers want to drop the union. Such elections are known as “decertification elections.” They are not rare — several hundred take place at unionized workplaces in a typical year. The law must be followed carefully, however. To view the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s summary of state laws for teachers looking to decertify their union click here.