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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2011

Ohio union exploits teachers

BY GARY BECKNER

As Gov. John Kasich signed the new state law that reforms public-sector collective bargaining, the Ohio Education Association already was mobilizing to repeal the measure. According to an e-mail obtained by news media, the OEA is looking into charging its members a mandatory $50 fee to fund a massive campaign before a November referendum.

The OEA collected $63 million in membership dues in 2008, financial disclosures reveal. Because of Ohio’s compulsory union laws, this money came directly out of the pockets of Ohio teachers — whether or not they wanted to pay.

Apparently the millions of dollars the OEA has amassed are not enough to appease union bosses or to fuel their campaign of self-preservation and forced dues. Does this arrangement seem democratic?

Ohio teachers can lose their jobs for not paying union dues of close to $1,000 a year. This is real money extracted from real families to pay for union politicking that frequently goes against teachers’ personal or political beliefs.

It is impossible to believe that Ohio teachers unanimously agree with the practice of having their paychecks become the personal piggy banks of union bosses. In fact, teachers who are adamantly opposed are speaking out.

Governor Kasich’s office released an e-mail written by a union member who sees the referendum fee as an endorsement of a position with which she does not agree. “I am very upset with the OEA union,” school employee Connie Ash said. “I am appalled that the OEA feels they can commandeer funds from my paycheck without my approval.”

Under current law, Ms. Ash must pay this additional fee to keep her job. If it goes into effect, Senate Bill 5 will see that teachers get the liberty to make that choice for themselves.

Thousands of teachers in the state do not identify with the OEA’s politics and tactics. They do not want to pay exorbitant mandatory dues and fees to support the union agenda.

Sadly, the fee proposal indicates where union bosses’ true priorities lie. Public employee unions see Senate Bill 5 as a threat to their pipeline of cash. The OEA is doing one of the things teachers unions do best: treating members’ paychecks as a political slush fund.

The lack of respect to ask first might be one of the key reasons that unions have lost so much respect among policy makers, legislators, and their own members. Teachers are forced to cling to unions that support a yesteryear, industrial-style model of negotiations and do little to advance the profession.

Leaders in the education reform effort often highlight innovations in policy that affect student achievement. Rarely, though, do they mention the need for a different style of employee representation. As college-educated professionals, teachers can make their own political decisions and choose whether they want to negotiate their own contracts.

There is an alternative to the overreaching, outdated model of union representation. The Association of American Educators, an alternative professional association, provides teachers with benefits and services they need, but at a fraction of the cost and without the partisan politics of the union.

The teachers of Ohio deserve the chance to evaluate their membership for themselves. They do not need yet another required fee to support a partisan agenda.

No longer should the OEA have unchecked access to the paychecks of hard-working Ohio teachers. With Senate Bill 5 as state law, teachers could make these choices for themselves.

Gary Beckner is executive director of the Association of American Educators, of Mission Viejo, Calif., the largest national nonunion association of professional teachers.



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