MILWAUKEE – For all the phony talk about “solidarity” and “brotherhood,” Wisconsin teachers unions were never voluntary organizations.
For decades, if you secured a teaching job in a Wisconsin public school, full union membership and monthly dues payments were required. Those who objected could avoid actual membership, but still had to pay non-member agency fees for union representation, which cost nearly as much as full monthly dues.
Then came Act 10, the 2011 collective bargaining reform law that made union membership for teachers and other public employees strictly voluntary.
Thousands of teachers took advantage of the new freedom and left their local unions. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state’s largest teachers union, has lost an estimated 30 percent of its membership since 2011.
But those teachers still in unions may be confused about their right to resign and how to go about it.
Their questions will be addressed online starting today, with the launch of TeacherFreedom.org, a new website sponsored by Education Action Group and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The website exists to remind teachers that they don’t have to belong to any branch of WEAC, the American Federation of Teachers or any other teachers union.
Teachers across the state will be informed of the new website through Facebook advertising, starting today.
The website will feature a standard printable resignation letter for teachers. All they have to do is fill in their personal information, print it out and mail it to their local union. There is no time frame for resigning from a union in Wisconsin. It can be done any day of any month of the year.
“We suspect there are still some teachers out there who are interested in leaving their unions, but aren’t sure if they can and aren’t sure how to do it,” said Kyle Olson, CEO of Education Action Group and publisher of EAGnews.org.
“The sad part is that the unions themselves have never been very forthcoming with this information. They would rather keep people around under the false assumption that they have no choice than tell them the truth and risk losing their dues money.
“We hope school employees will take advantage of this tool if they believe union membership is no longer a value to them and they seek to be free from it.”
Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of WILL, said his organization was happy to provide the legal research necessary for the website.
“Act 10 is about freedom of choice for teachers,” Esenberg said. “We are happy to have assisted EAG in helping teachers exercise their right to choose with whom they will associate.”
As the website says, under Act 10, “union membership is completely voluntary. You cannot legally be fired from your job or be penalized for belonging to a union or refraining from membership.
“Before Act 10, unions could require nonmembers as a contingency of employment to pay agency fees to cover the costs associated with collective bargaining. Since Act 10, nonmembers can no longer be forced to pay agency fees or otherwise be forced to make mandatory contributions to their union.”
The website also addresses the following common questions that teachers might have:
“What if my collective bargaining agreement has not expired? Do I have to wait or can I still resign and pay less than I am currently paying?”
The answer – If your collective bargaining agreement was signed before the effective date of Act 10 (June 29, 2011), then it is still binding, though that situation is very rare. If your collective bargaining agreement was signed after the effective date of Act 10 then you can resign your union membership at any time.
“How do I resign from my union?”
The answer – Notify your union representative and your employer. You may do this by clicking here, which will automatically generate a letter for you. Make sure your resignation is in writing. It is best to send it by certified mail. You may resign from your union at any time; however, you still may be required to pay union dues or agency fees if your collective bargaining agreement or dues check-off authorization is still in effect.
“What if I signed an agreement where the union can automatically withdraw dues from my bank account or charge my credit card?”
The answer – You must contact your bank or credit card company in writing and cancel any such agreement. There are typically time deadlines involved for such notifications to be effective. If you have prepaid your union dues, you should contact your local union to see whether you are entitled to a partial refund.
The free labor market
Wisconsin union officials are certain to be enraged by the new website, the same way teachers union officials in Clark County, Nevada were angered when a local free market organization sent emails to all of their members, telling them what they had to do to leave their union.
Those emails have gone out for two straight years, and thousands have resigned from the Clark County union.
We don’t understand how union leaders can be upset by a simple reminder of the truth – that their members are free individuals who can come and go as they please. Is the concept of freedom really that offensive to them?
Teachers everywhere are being reminded that they are degreed professionals with individual market value, particularly in Wisconsin.
For years teachers in Wisconsin and other states were treated like interchangeable parts with no individual value separate from the group. Their salaries and benefits were determined by strict union pay scales, which were based on nothing but seniority and the number of advanced college credits earned.
But Act 10 recognizes that some teachers are more effective than others, and therefore more valuable.
While it’s now easier for school districts to remove ineffective teachers, it’s also becoming a sellers market for quality instructors, particularly those in hard-to-fill disciplines like science and math.
Since the law changed, many school districts have been recruiting and negotiating with veteran teachers, with no salary restrictions. School districts are now free to pay whatever they can afford to attract reputable teachers, and teachers are free to accept higher salaries.
Some Wisconsin school administrators have reported offering teachers from other districts raises of $10,000 or more to make the switch.
“I think, over the next few years, a lot of Wisconsin educators will be excited to learn about their increased value on the open market,” Olson said. “Teachers are extremely important professionals, and community school districts are under a lot of pressure from parents to attract the best possible educators.
“That will work to the teachers’ advantage, at least those who are not bound and gagged by union membership.”