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Teachers should get educated on their rights

By: Michael Costanza

At this very moment, teachers across Connecticut are counting down the days. 

Not to summer vacation (well, that too) but to August 1, when they may, at last, leave the state’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA).  The CEA permits members to leave only during the month of August.  To those teachers whose withdrawal letters are already proofed and printed, waiting to postmark them may feel like an eternity.  Being forced to wait will also feel expensive, as total union dues in most school districts easily surpass $800.

Recently, a new grassroots network has emerged to help more teachers break free from the unions before another summer and another school year pass.  We call ourselves Constitution State Educators.  You can find us on Facebook.

Our purpose is simple: to support teachers in exercising their First Amendment right to work without being charged union fees of any kind.  The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this right in its Janus v. AFSCME ruling in 2018, but since then the CEA has done its best to mislead and frustrate teachers who deign to consider leaving.

Withdrawal windows like the CEA’s arbitrary August rule are unions’ most practical obstructive tools.  They are absurd for two reasons: 

First, they make leaving comically more complicated than joining.  CEA boasts in a video on its website that new members can sign up today, paperless, from any device, receive a welcome email within 20 minutes, and have dues prorated.  Teachers wishing to leave?  Sorry, please snail-mail a letter to Hartford in August or else it’s another year of payroll deductions.  

Second, and far less funny, is that while we might think unions would pride themselves on respecting workers’ constitutional rights 365 days a year, the CEA is wholly uninterested in such trifles during the eleven months from September through July.  Gotta bank those dues dollars and save up for those elections in November.

The state’s other major teachers union, AFT Connecticut, is no better.  AFT locals are free to set their own rules for withdrawing, which can be just as restrictive.  

For these reasons, withdrawal windows can be squared with neither common sense nor the Constitution.  Workers have filed lawsuits against such restrictions around the country, and acclaimed attorneys have offered to represent Connecticut teachers, pro bono.  Interested?

For now, though, teachers who wish to leave the CEA should get their withdrawal letters ready today, before the lull of summer.  And AFT teachers should determine their locals’ withdrawal requirements.  We welcome curious teachers and other school employees to attend Constitution State Educators’ webinars and Zoom sessions this spring and summer.

We hope our efforts will establish five facts that the unions don’t want teachers to know.  First, union membership is 100 percent optional.  Second, thanks to Janus, non-members can no longer be required to pay so-called agency fees.  Third, every teacher is covered fully by his or her school district’s contract, union member or not.  Fourth, unions must represent all teachers fairly, including non-members.  Put simply, if unions insist on a monopoly on bargaining for all employees, then they must serve all employees fairly under the contracts they negotiate.  

Whether from ignorance or hostility, union officers keep getting these facts wrong … which brings us to one final fact: teachers who’ve lost faith in the unions are free to join non-union professional associations.  The Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International are two examples.  Such organizations provide liability insurance and workplace legal protection beyond what the unions offer, for much less money, and are open to any W-2 employees of educational institutions from pre-K to higher ed.  

The bottom line is that teachers have choices, and we like it that way.  After all, if teachers leaving the union today decide they miss it tomorrow, surely the CEA will be glad to take their money again no matter what month it is.

Michael Costanza is the Founder of the Constitution State Educators and a Grade 6 teacher in North Stonington

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Connecticut Inside Investigator.


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