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Before It’s News: Workers seeking retroactive refunds

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Free to Teach Director Keith Williams is quoted in an article from Before it’s News on Feb. 11, 2020:

For union members and nonmembers who differ with the political positions of the PSEA and other unions, Keith Williams, director of Americans for Fair Treatment and a former public-school teacher, sees a way out. He founded the nonprofit group based in Harrisburg to inform teachers of their rights and options.

“A lot of teachers like their local unions because they are less political, more accountable and more responsive to the concerns of their members,” he said in an interview. “But they are less enthusiastic about what’s happening with unions at the state and national level.”

That’s one reason why 11 local teachers unions seceded from the National Education Association in the past five years, he explained in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. “There’s an arrangement called ‘unified dues’ where a teacher who joins an NEA-affiliated local is then automatically enrolled in the state and national unions,” Williams said. “While an individual teacher can decline to join, the locals have a harder time leaving now. That’s because the NEA has changed its bylaws putting up new roadblocks to prevent locals from going their own way. Clearly, this is an ongoing battle. We are all about starting a conversation and changing the paradigm. Teachers should be free to join a union if they like, but they should be just as free not to. Allowing local unions to go in their own direction I think would appeal to a lot of teachers.”

Williams has started a new initiative called “Free to Teach” designed to “help teachers exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of association without threats or coercion from unions.”

He points to a growing body of evidence in recent election returns that suggests public-school teachers in particular, and public-sector workers in general, object to having their union dues and fees funneled into political activism that is at odds with their own convictions. “Many rank-and-file union members recognize that the political positions of their union leadership are often out of step with their own,” he said. “But I think we still need to raise awareness about how union dues are spent and allocated.”

Only a small percentage of the dues paid to the teachers unions are reserved for the local unions. Williams estimates that in most Pennsylvania school districts about 90 percent of the dues are sent to the state and national affiliates.

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