By Ben Velderman
DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. – Anyone who has ever tried to quit a book-of-the-month club can empathize with what Maria del Carmen Gonzalez Tucker is going through.
Tucker is a middle school teacher who tried to cancel her membership with the Downingtown Area Education Association last December, but was told by the teachers union that she’d be required to keep paying full union dues through the end of the 2012-13 school year.
That wasn’t acceptable to Tucker, so she enlisted the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and is suing the union and her school district for violating her right to quit the union and her right to know how her union contributions are being spent.
Tucker’s lawsuit cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson decision as proof that “workers have the unconditional right to refrain from union membership at any time,” according to a press release from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
But neither Tucker’s school district nor her union have allowed her to quit paying full membership dues, according to the National Right to Work press release.
Unfortunately, Tucker can’t legally sever all ties with her union. The best she can do is to cancel her full membership and become a union “fee” payer.
Since Pennsylvania is not a “right to work” state, many public and private sector employees are legally required to join a labor union or pay union-imposed “representation fees” in order to hold a job. (Public school teachers fall into that category.)
Fee payers are legally obligated to pay the union for “services” it provides to members. In Tucker’s case, the DAEA has a legal right to charge her for the union’s role in negotiating the details of her contract with the school district.
But fee payers are not obligated to help finance the union’s extracurricular political activities. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that unions must provide fee payers with a spending report to ensure that union leaders aren’t misusing their (forced) contributions, according to the Right to Work Foundation.
Tucker’s lawsuit alleges that the union has failed to provide her with a legally-required breakdown of how her union fees are being spent.
From the Right to Work press release:
“Tucker is asking the court to halt the deduction of full union dues from her paychecks until she receives proper disclosure and to order a refund of any illegally-seized union dues and fees. The suit also challenges as unconstitutional two Pennsylvania laws that purport to grant union officials the power to force nonmember workers into paying full union dues against their will.”
Throughout her teaching career, Tucker was probably told that her union worked for her.
She’s finding out that the opposite is true: teachers really work for their unions.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, offered this summary of Tucker’s conundrum: “This case underscores why Pennsylvania needs a ‘right to work’ law making union affiliation and dues payments completely voluntary.”