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It is Time to Respect Non-union Teachers

By Benjamin DeGrow

When it comes to making decisions affecting where their salaries go, many teachers in Colorado SpringsSchool District11 seem to be left out of the loop.

For more than a decade now, District 11 has had a negotiated policy with the Colorado Springs Education Association (CSEA) that has annually burdened individual teachers who don’t want to be union members.

According to the Master Agreement’s governing terms, District 11 deducts “from the salaries of teachers who are not members of the Association an amount equal to the annual Association dues,” unless that teacher files a revocation form “on or before the tenth (10th) work day after receipt of the teacher’s first paycheck of the relevant school year.” Only four other school districts in the entire state have similar practices.

Last year, about 24 percent of District 11’s teachers submitted a timely authorized form to either the district or union office to avoid paying the $677.76 representation fee.

This past school year, after becoming a victim of the process, a District 11 teacher became vocal about the need to change the policy. On July 15 the CSEA sent a letter to teachers who had filed revocations in 2003-04, telling them that it is not necessary for them to sign a new revocation form this year, “CSEA and the District will honor the form you signed last year and no dues will be withheld from your paycheck.”

More than 450 teachers don’t have to submit a revocation this time around to avoid the threat of union withholdings.Whether this change will be permanent is unclear. Non-union member teachers could face future confusion, unsure which policy is in effect.

For more than a decade, “relevant year” was interpreted as the current school year. Now the CSEA says that “relevant year,” found in the Master Agreement, refers to 2003-2004 for teachers who filed the revocation forms last year. But for new teachers or those who missed the deadline last year, the “relevant year” is 2004-2005.

The modification may be a small step in the right direction, but it certainly does not solve the basic problem of requiring non-union teachers to opt out of a deduction that goes to the union. New teachers who want to join the union or teachers who missed the deadline last year still have to revoke their representation fees before Sept. 16.

At an Aug. 4 forum in Colorado Springs sponsored by the Independence Institute, local union officials spoke in defense of representation fees. CSEA Vice-President Irma Valerio said that non-union members receive “all the benefits” of organization, bargaining, and job protection that the CSEA has to offer.

“We felt that if you didn’t really want to be part of this professional organization, then there was a need for you to make sure you say that you don’t want to be a part of it,” said Valerio.

However, teachers are adults and are capable of deciding to join the union if they so choose. In Colorado, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition for employment. The union and the school district should not have the authority to agree to deduct wages from a teacher’s paycheck to pay for union representation without the teacher’s permission.

Representative Bill Cadman sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have required a signed employee authorization before this type of deduction could be made. The Colorado Education Association opposed the bill.

At the Aug. 4 meeting, one union official said they decided to make the change in part to help their office staff, which will not have to process as many forms this year.

The union’s officials and office staff may be satisfied with the adjusted representation fee process, and others in District 11 may hope the attention they have received fades away. But that is not good enough for the teachers – a few vocal and many silent – who bear the burden of revocation.

The CSEA and District 11 should treat teachers like grown-up professionals by agreeing to a change in policy that would amend the contract.

Union officials may say the system works fine for them and that the issue is a matter of local control. However, a teacher’s control over her own paycheck does not seem to be important to the union.

(c)2004, Independence Institute