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Pueblo School Districts: union teaches that “no” doesn’t really mean “no”

By Benjamin DeGrow

Public school boards should not give a private organization privileged access to employee earnings. Yet both Pueblo school districts rank among the state’s worst offenders.

District 60 and District 70 are two of only four Colorado school districts that require teachers who have never joined a teachers union to submit a letter each year to avoid paying hundreds of dollars to the union. No matter how many letters a teacher has submitted in the past, she must turn in the request again this year before September 14.

Absurdly, a non-union teacher’s annual notification letter has to be sent to the union office, not to the school district employer which signs the paycheck. In District 60, a non-union teacher has to visit the Pueblo Education Association (PEA) office in person to collect the form. Although it would be easy to make the form available on a website, or at School District offices, the requirement for a trip to the union office is a transparent attempt to make the process as inconvenient as possible for the teachers.

Someone who gets busy for whatever reason and forgets the deadline is simply out of luck. He is stuck with paying the union hundreds of dollars for the next year, equivalent to a full year of dues for people who did choose to join the union.

Despite the obstacles, nearly one in seven teachers in District 60 took time last year to assert the desire not to subsidize a union they had chosen not to join. Of District 60’s 1,083 teachers, 151 filed revocation forms with the PEA office. They each avoided paying $770 from their paychecks.

The number of District 70 teachers who filed 2006 revocations with the Pueblo County Teachers Association is not available. (The district said I’d have to ask the union president, who has yet to return any of my phone messages.)

Both districts use the term “representation fees” for the amount non-members pay to the union. The term implies that all teachers gain a benefit from the union’s collective bargaining negotiations. However, “representation fees” also cover expenses that have no relation to the interests of a non-union teacher.

Of last year’s total dues amount, $60 ($36 to the Colorado Education Association, $24 to PEA) funded contributions to candidates whom the non-union teachers never chose to support. Some dues paid for the state union office’s public relations, member recruitment, and administration. More than $140 went to National Education Association headquarters to pay national union officer salaries and to underwrite contributions to various left-wing groups.

Colorado state law says teachers are free to join or not to join a union or professional organization. Nearly all Colorado school districts respect a teacher’s choice; if she chooses not to join a union, the school district will not take money out of her salary and give it to a union. But the Pueblo districts force the non-union teacher to fill out forms year after year after year, in order to stop the District from giving hundreds of dollars of the teacher’s own salary to a union.

Non-union teachers in Colorado Springs District 11 used to have to say ‘No’ in writing to union fees each year. Now, District 11 has a policy of honoring previous revocations: one opt-out request stands. Of course, a teacher can always change his mind, and join the union in a subsequent year.

Yet taking people’s money without their permission is simply wrong. Pueblo principals can suspend students for “stealing or attempting to steal private property.” Likewise, Pueblo schools should stop granting unions special privileges to take teachers’ money without asking first. Pueblo’s current policy weakens taxpayer confidence in the fairness and honesty of the school district administration.

Pueblo’s non-union teachers have until September 14 to opt out of paying a year’s worth of union fees, but the burden shouldn’t be on them. Administrators and union leaders should respect the choices of individual teachers, instead of picking their pockets without their consent.

Ben DeGrow (ben@i2i.org) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank located in Golden.