By Ben Velderman
WINCHESTER, Ind. – The case of Randolph Central Classroom Teachers Association vs. Mrs. Gina Walker will be heard today in the Randolph County Small Claims Court.
While it won’t set any historic legal precedents, the case highlights the plight of K-12 teachers who want to gain their professional independence, and rigid labor unions who refuse to let them go without a fight.
Walker, a seventh-grade special education teacher in Indiana’s Randolph Central School Corporation, tried to quit her union last summer, but missed the July 30 drop deadline.
Because of that, union representatives told her she was required to remain a dues-paying member for the 2011-12 school year. When Walker refused to continue dues payments, the union president and vice president said they’d bring her to small claims court to get their money.
That was last August. Over the past 11 months, Walker has received multiple letters from the union, including a last-chance warning in January. The case went to trial last month, but was delayed by a technicality.
Walker’s case will finally be decided today.
She realizes now that the deadline for quitting the union was hidden away in her contract, and that she will probably lose the case and be forced to pay up.
But there’s more at stake for Walker than just money. She is using this opportunity to take a stand against a union she says has gotten too political, too radical and too greedy.
“I feel I have a moral obligation to fight the union until the judge finally tells me to pay up,” Walker tells EAGnews.org. “It will cost them way more to fight me than they’re going to get out of me.”
‘I cannot be a part of that’
When Walker began her teaching career in 2005, she was not legally obligated to join the RCCTA. That’s because Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had signed a law ending forced unionization for state employees.
But like many new teachers, Walker felt pressured into joining the RCCTA by her building’s union representatives.
Over the past several years, she’s become troubled by her union’s efforts to squeeze every possible penny out of the school district during contract negotiations, especially during tough financial times.
“My goal is to hear children say, ‘Oh, I get it now,’” Walker says. “My goal is not to drive my pay up so much that the school district cannot afford me.”
Walker is also deeply troubled by the teacher unions’ far-left political agenda, which was on full display during last year’s protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to limit collective bargaining for public employees.
She said she was especially disgusted by the news that protesting teachers were receiving fake doctor notes to justify their absence from the classroom.
“I said to myself, ‘I cannot be a part of that,’” Walker says.
She’s not reflexively anti-union. Her grandfather worked as a coal miner before many of the labor laws were passed, so she understands the contributions labor unions have made. But she doesn’t buy the argument that teachers need unions in order to have a voice in education.
“If I feel my school district isn’t paying me enough, I can go somewhere else,” she says. “I feel I’m a good enough teacher to stand on my own two feet.”
Though she missed the deadline for quitting the RCCTA last summer, Walker submitted her resignation on time this year. So regardless of how the case is settled today, it will be the last time she is forced to deal with the union.
“I just gave myself a $700 raise,” she says with a laugh.
As for the teachers insurance the union offers, she won’t miss that either. For $30 a year, she gets teachers insurance through her homeowner’s policy, which, when coupled with the insurance the school carries, is more than enough.
Despite all the trouble she’s gone through to quit the union, she hopes her story will inspire other teachers to stand up against their union.
“My message for teachers is don’t be afraid. Don’t let them use that fear factor to make you pay these dues,” Walker says. “And read your contract and find the opt-out window.
“I wish someone had told me that.”