Rob Brough and John Cress are public school teachers in Pennsylvania. When they wanted to quit their teachers union because of its increasing politicization, they found out they had to continue to pay dues. Their union claimed that a “maintenance of membership” clause forbade them from leaving the union except during a short two-week window at the end of their three-year to four-year contracts.
Teachers like Brough and Cress are only two of many workers who cannot leave their unions due to confusing rules and regulations. That is why a coalition of more than 50 nonprofits across the United States launched National Employee Freedom Week, a national campaign from June 23 to 29 to inform workers of their workplace rights.
According to a poll commissioned by the coalition, 33.4 percent of union households in the United States would choose to opt out if they could. Those who do have that choice tend to opt out, as demonstrated by nationwide declining union membership. Priya Abraham, a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, explains the situation faced by workers in 26 states without workplace freedom:
When you join an organization, whether it’s the Rotary Club or your local gym, you decide how long you want to be a member, and leave when you wish. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many employees throughout America.… [B]eing a labor union member feels much like checking out of the Hotel California: You can never really leave.
This lack of freedom can have devastating consequences for teachers. Heritage Foundation analyst James Sherk writes,
Bria Klotz, a former sixth-grade teacher in Lawrence, Kansas…won statewide recognition for her excellence in the classroom. She nonetheless got laid off when Lawrence Public Schools had to make cuts. Why did she lose out? Her union contract called for seniority-based layoffs, so she was among the first to go. The winners? The more senior union members who got ironclad job security from the contract.
Few teachers have much say over how unions represent them. Most of the teachers who negotiated the contracts decades ago no longer work in those school districts, but these contracts can still cost people like Klotz their jobs.
The 31-state National Employee Freedom Week campaign is being led by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI). Last year, the group informed teachers in Nevada’s Clark County about their right to opt out of the Clark County Education Association (CCEA). Eight hundred teachers dropped their membership once they knew their rights.
How many other employees across America might follow them once they know their rights? National Employee Freedom Week aims to find out.