IP-4-2004 (January 2004)
Author: Mark W. Salley and Pamela Benigno
In most Colorado public school districts a teacher who wants to become a union member completes a payroll withholding form that authorizes the school district to withhold money for the teacher’s union membership costs. In essence, the school districts are providing a middleman service: collecting from teachers and giving to the union, even though part of the money collected by the districts is used for political purposes.
More than a decade ago, the Colorado Education Association (CEA) adopted a political fundraising structure to safeguard its use of public school district payroll systems for the collection of union funds. That structure included the creation of the Every Member Option (EMO) program to raise money devoted exclusively to the CEA’s political activities.
Although most school districts do not acknowledge withholding funds for political activities, the CEA active full-time membership includes a $24.00 per year fee from each teacher to fund its EMO. This refundable contribution is used to support partisan candidates, school board candidates, mill levy and bond elections, and to pass or defeat ballot issues. In addition, many local affiliates deduct funds for their own local EMO, and the National Education Association has a nonrefundable assessment used to support or defeat ballot initiatives.
While teachers in Colorado are not required to belong to a teachers’ union, five school districts deduct an amount equivalent to union dues out of every teacher’s check, whether she joins the union or not. The burden is placed on the teacher to opt out every year during a window of time. If the teacher misses the deadline, the funds are taken out of the check every month and will not be refunded. This is claimed to be a “voluntary” authorization.
In recent years, banks have made their services increasingly convenient through electronic banking. Teachers today—who want to be members of the union—could use electronic transfers to automatically pay their membership fees directly to the teachers’ union, and school districts would no longer be the middleman.
The following reforms should be considered:
- School districts should be prohibited from making payroll deductions for union membership fees. A prohibition would ensure that school districts are not collecting political contributions and would protect non-member teachers who currently are having fees equivalent to union dues deducted from their paychecks without their written authorization.
- If payroll deductions for union fees are allowed, school districts should be prohibited from withholding any funds from an employee’s paycheck that are used for political purposes.
- If school districts are allowed to continue making payroll deductions for union political contributions, school districts should require any withholding form to include a breakdown of the amount of funds directed to the local, regional, state, and national organizations. This breakdown should include the amount of any funds used to support political activities. The form should include the written authorization of the employee and be valid for only one year.