Now think really hard: Do you personally know or have any kind of relationship with anyone from PSEA? What about NEA?
I didn’t think so.
But as Pennsylvania teachers, we’ll end up kicking up thousands of dollars of our career earnings to these faceless bureaucracies with no say in how they’re run or how our hard-earned money is spent.
Sound like a good deal?
Like all public education teachers, when I first began teaching I did not give much thought to joining the union…it was just something that you automatically did because membership was expected of everyone.
As a second-career teacher who didn’t start teaching until 32, I still recall being self-employed and looking on in disgust at my hometown teachers’ union striking against the very taxpayers who paid their generous salary and benefit packages. That memory has stayed with me my entire career and has been difficult to reconcile with how I was forced to go on multiple strikes with the Abington Heights Education Association (AHEA). Rank-and-file members had no say in these strikes because union officers had the exclusive right to call and end a strike action.
It sounds crazy, but such was the life as a member of the AHEA/PSEA/NEA, where a dues bill of $900/year bought you membership in an exclusive club. The only problem was that club members were always on the outside looking in. Leaders guarded information like state secrets, and frowned upon questions or dissent. Independent political thought contrary to the official PSEA company line was unwelcome, and groupthink reigned. It all struck me like a Hollywood script about some crazy cult brainwashing its members in order to maintain power.
Welcome to 21st-century teachers’ unions.
Now in my 22ndyear as a professional music educator, the recent Janus decision has given me the impetus to finally pull the plug on the NEA racket and start pushing for a local-only professional association. A local, independent union will fit the unique needs of our district, respect the taxpayers who finance our salaries, focus on improving education, and underscore the value that experienced educators like myself bring to the students and the community.
So what made me finally leave the PSEA/NEA?
As my career advanced through the years and I continued to study the inner workings of the union, their penchant for secrecy and power became all too evident. As one of the few that would speak out at general membership meetings, I got the sense that they viewed me as a rabble-rouser, even though I was trying to suggest ways to make the union more transparent and member-friendly. Our local has been heavily influenced by the PSEA agenda and doesn’t seem to do anything without the blessing and approval of PSEA bureaucrats. Local officers wield absolute power over all aspects of the union, and ‘down-the-ladder’ building reps are also kept out of the loop.
I can still recall the hassle of trying to get budget reports, only receiving one because a building rep ‘snuck’ it to me on the sly. Or the time I was accosted by the local treasurer at the end of a meeting because I dared to inquire about the union’s finances and how the books were being audited. Whenever contract negotiations came around, the old mafia line–“No one knows anything!” was apropos, as members were never privy to negotiation details. Divulging information to the people who finance the operation is not considered good business practice.
In addition to the above shenanigans, the two biggest reasons I am no longer a PSEA/NEA member have to do with finances and First Amendment Rights. If you get a chance, do a Google search on the salaries of PSEA and NEA employees. Your exorbitant dues are helping to finance six-figure salaries for employees of a huge, unaccountable machine.
Do you ever wonder what a PSEA Uniserv Rep does to justify making more than many PA superintendents? As a teacher, you bust your butt to make a respectable salary, only to realize that your union dues are financing outrageous compensation packages for people you will never meet and whose job titles are vague at best.
The only time we would see a PSEA employee was when we were on strike, and as far as NEA reps, who were they? Did these people even exist?
It’s comical that the major unions like to support social justice issues such as reducing income inequality. In the meantime, the average PA teacher makes about $63,000 in salary, while the PSEA and NEA presidents bring home total compensation packages of $244,000 and $415,000 respectively.
Are you OK with that disparity in income? And ask yourself this question: What exactly do these people do to justify these outlandish salaries?
Finally, I cannot in good conscience continue to support an organization that is rapidly becoming more of a far-left political activist group and less of an organization which advocates for quality education. Many of us have experienced PACE shakedowns in our buildings, where we are strongly encouraged to fund candidates who support public education (of course, they’re always Democrats). “Vote Your Job” is the rallying cry of PSEA, while expecting you to ignore all other issues that are important to you and your loved ones.
If you’re like me, you find this political arm-twisting to be offensive and insulting.
As American citizens, we should be free to vote for those candidates whose values and principles we agree with. Unfortunately, PSEA/ NEA have made a hard turn towards the activist-left, and your union dues support a variety of groups and causes that you might not agree with. I think if you take the time to research where their dues-financed donations go, you will be as appalled as I am.
Our local union recently started posting on their Facebook page about their support for various social justice issues that had nothing to do with education policy, requesting that members show up for rallies on the courthouse square to support such causes. No matter what your political persuasion is, are you comfortable with a portion of your dues supporting political ideologies and initiatives that you don’t agree with?
In closing, I think it’s time for PA educators to take a long, critical look at the unions they are financing, and ask yourself if you are happy with the way things are being run. With the recent Janusdecision, nobody has to be forced to pay into a union and support causes and operating practices they disagree with.
There are other options out there that are less expensive, more democratic, and free of political influence. Consider forming a local-only association that avoids the demagoguery and political propaganda of the disconnected PSEA/NEA and take back control of America’s education future. Do it for your students, your community, and yourself.
David L. Chaump
Middle school music teacher