Teachers Union ‘Stronger Together’

Margo Silliman, Staff Writer

On June 27 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Janus vs AFSCME case that teachers and school employees no longer need to pay dues and be part of their teacher’s union. In the past, education workers have all needed to pay the minimum of an agency fee to the union, and could choose to also be a member and pay a larger fee. Unions across the country opposed this ruling, as having less dues-paying members could weaken their effectiveness in creating and maintaining safe and equitable workplaces.

In the end, the Court decided that the benefits of barring agency fees outweigh the burden placed on the union for having to represent non-members.

In their official report of the case, the Court explained the two reasons they could think of to refute their decision, “We can think of two possible arguments. It might be argued that a State has a compelling interest in requiring the payment of agency fees because for one thing unions would otherwise be unwilling to represent non-members or for another, it would be fundamentally unfair to require unions to provide fair representation for non-members if non-members were not required to pay.”

The Court then went on to explain how neither argument they proposed matters. Unions want to be the sole representation of employees, so they would never refuse representing anyone even if that person refused to pay the agency fee. They want to have exclusive power over deciding wages, benefits, and working conditions. Being appointed this position also makes up for not receiving payment from all benefactors.

The fundamental theory is centered on the first amendment, which is freedom of speech. The Court believes paying the agency fee and being a part of the union in that way violates freedom of speech if you don’t agree with what your union stands for.

According to the official report, some unions can charge for “‘social and recreational activities,’ ‘advertising,’ ‘membership meetings and conventions,’ and ‘litigation,’ as well as other unspecified ‘services’ that ‘may ultimately inure to the benefit of the members of the local bargaining unit.’”

According to the Court, this describes a lot of categories, many of which are vague and broad. “Litigation” could be political action you don’t agree with. “Services” could be any number of things, and the Court fears the category’s parameters could easily be stretched and delve into overspending.

This decision was made back in June. So, what’s happening now? According to a report by NPR, some unions are falling apart. In a few red states, who usually don’t favor unions, too many people are seceding.

Large numbers of people leaving takes power from organizations already lacking the means compared to unions in other states. They were already struggling to accomplish their duties, and now they’re losing money as well.

Here in union-loving Massachusetts, we face no such problems. According to Brooke Styche, president of the Barnstable Teachers’ Association (BTA), we’ve had one person leave the union. That’s it. Some of you might now be thinking of those “Stronger Together” T-shirts you’ve seen your teachers wearing. Well, don’t, because that actually doesn’t have to do with this issue.

The T-shirts have to do with this being the first year Barnstable teachers have begun the school year with a new contract. In the past, they’ve gone in without new criterion and had to rely on the past years’ contract in the event of any problems. In favor of starting anew, Styche coined the “Stronger Together” catchphrase that has been adopted all along the Cape, as she observed at Monomoy and DY school committee meetings.

In Barnstable, as well as for most unions, a major part of the job is negotiating contracts. Styche does so every three years. She is in charge of giving everyone a voice and making sure working conditions are reasonable. This contract applies to all—due payer or not.

Even buying “Stronger Together” T-shirts goes towards something worthwhile; they put it towards a college scholarship for seniors.

All these add up to an example of what a strong union can do. If people were to drop out of the BTA, all its plans and programs would be negatively affected. It’s hard to believe a teacher wouldn’t want his or her voice to support providing seniors with scholarship money, especially when it’s raised separately from the money teachers pay the union directly.

Although T-shirts don’t apply directly to the Court’s judgement, they go to show how unions like Barnstable’s won’t really suffer. All those people wearing T-shirts show commitment. It’s an example of how our school employees will continue to choose to pay dues and support the union and all it does.