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Fact #6: State and national unions don’t always advocate for teachers’ best interests


Our last fact challenges the idea that the NEA and AFT-PA are always looking out for teachers’ best interests.

Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

All too often, leaders of the large government unions act in the union’s best interest at the expense of workers. Take the case of Mark Kiddo, for example, an Erie Water Works employee who is suing AFSCME, his government employee union. AFSCME withheld vital information from Mark and his co-workers, namely a superior salary and benefits package their employer was offering. The benefits plan structure didn’t fit AFSCME’s prior messaging, so they opted not to tell the Erie Water Works employees about the opportunity at all.

In many other cases, such maneuvering does not become so public. Cheri Gensel, a high school teacher from northeastern Pennsylvania, told Free to Teach her story of years-long frustration with the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Last year, for example, the North Pocono Education Association raised tensions between educators and the administration unnecessarily. It delayed approval over a change in prescription drug carriers that would have saved the district and employees about $200,000 in health care costs. (In the teachers’ contract, the administration may adopt a new health care carrier if coverage and benefits are equal to or better than those before).

Teacher dissatisfaction with the state and national unions has been appearing broadly in other ways. Before the U.S. Supreme Court banned fair share fees in 2018, non-union government employees in 22 states were required to pay labor unions a fee just to work a public sector job. A good proxy, then, for unhappiness with a the PSEA or AFT-PA is how many educators have been choosing to become fee payers instead of union members. From 2013 to 2018, the number of fee payers in the PSEA grew 20 percent, from 5,603 to 6,704. (The fee payer number for 2018, of course, represents the peak before the PSEA reveals its post-Janus figures, which will consist only of private-sector fee payers.)

Cheri chose to leave the PSEA in 2018, and Mark Kiddo chose to sue AFSCME. Examples like theirs illustrate what many national unions have become: political organizations seeking to preserve their influence at any cost. As Cheri told Free to Teach, “The union’s philosophy is supposed to be to get the highest amount of pay possible for its members.”

Disturbingly, that’s not always the big unions’ goal.

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