Last week we started a new series called “6 Myths Teachers’ Unions Don’t Want You to Question.” We began with Myth #1—Nobody can force you to join a union.
Today we go on to Myth #2, that union dues cannot be used for political purposes.
Let’s get this straight once and for all.
For one thing, when teachers’ unions repeatedly say union dues cannot be used for politics, they mean very narrowly that union dues cannot be given directly to political candidates. Only that much is true. The PSEA, for example, collects contributions separately for its political action committee, PACE, for such purposes (which they conveniently offer as a simple sign-up box on the union’s own membership enrollment form).
However, as we explain in this annually updated piece, Where Do Your Union Dues Go?, member dues can be spent on a variety of “soft” political activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives, election mailers, lobbying of legislators, and public marketing campaigns. In 2017-18, the PSEA spent $2.9 million of teachers’ union dues on “political activities and lobbying.” Just look at the PSEA’s Voice Magazine, examine letters to members like this one to Mary, or look at salaries to PSEA lobbyists, and you’ll get an idea of just how much politicking there is from union dues.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have started to shed more light on the issue of how political government unions are as well. In 2014, in Harris v. Quinn, the court argued that collective bargaining is itself inherently political because the very act of negotiating over government funds–i.e., taxpayer monies, affect the level of government spending and financing. Of course, the very idea of pro-rated union dues, or agency fees, existed for over 40 years because the Supreme Court understood that government unions did indeed use some union dues to fund political and ideological activities with which many workers disagreed.
It was only through Janus v. AFSCME in 2018 that the Supreme Court finally secured full First Amendment rights when it came to workplace association for government workers, who no longer have to pay any type of fee to unions as a condition of employment.
So, still think your teacher union dues can’t be used for politics? Time to stab that myth in the head.