1. What is a fair share fee?
A fair share fee, deducted from educators’ paychecks in about 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts, is a fraction of full union dues that non-union members have to pay. In 2015, a full-time teacher in the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) will have to pay $374, an amount meant to cover collective bargaining and representational activities of the union for all members of a bargaining unit. Currently, the PSEA calculates fair share fees at 74 percent of state-level PSEA dues and 38 percent of National Education Association (NEA) dues.
For members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), the PFT has calculated its fair share fee at 83 percent of full union dues. American Federation of Teachers, Pennsylvania (the state based affiliate of the PFT) calculated their fair share fee at 69 percent of dues. The American Federation of Teachers (the national union) calculated its fair share fee at only 65 percent of dues.
2. What are my workplace protections if I become a fee payer?
In school districts that require non-union members to pay fair share fees, the union is still legally required to represent fee payers in collective bargaining and grievance and disciplinary proceedings, such as when you have a dispute with an administrator. Fee payers are still protected by provisions in their collective bargaining agreement, including earning the same salary and receiving the same benefits as other educators in their district with the same years of service and education.
In fact, during negotiations, the union will represent fee payers’ interests because the final agreement applies to all employees in the school district (and it’s how the union justifies charging a fair share fee at all). As a fee payer, you still have all of the rights and protections contained in the Public School Code, including tenure and the right to a hearing prior to dismissal for cause. In short, a fee payer still has all the same protections of a union member.
3. By law, fair share fees may NOT cover political activities of the union.
It isn’t just money from the union’s Political Action Committee, or PAC, that can fund politics. Union member dues can and do fund a variety of “soft” political activities, including election mailers, get-out-the vote drives, independent campaign activities, public marketing campaigns, expenses related to soliciting and administering contributions to the union’s PAC fund, and lobbying of legislators. In 2011, PSEA member dues even funded a $21,000 in-kind contribution to recall the governor of Wisconsin.
Teachers unions must report these as “political activities and lobbying” to the U.S. Department of Labor every year on a financial document called the LM-2. And because union dues can fund politics, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in Teachers v. Hudson that unions must demonstrate with detailed financial records that no portion of a worker’s fair share fee goes toward ideological activities, as that would violate his or her First Amendment rights. This annual notification is called a “Hudson notice.”
Teachers unions report PAC contributions—money that goes directly to elect candidates for political office—separately to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
4. We repeat: Union member dues can fund politics.
Union dues cannot be given to candidates, but can be used for lobbying and independent political spending.
In 2011, the PSEA goofed and charged its fee payers for political activities, which is prohibited. This occurred because the NEA increased the national portion of teachers’ dues by $10 nationwide, to fund an election effort called the “Ballot Measure/Legislative Crisis Fund.” The increase raised NEA dues for full-time teachers and union members from $168 to $178. However, no part of that was “chargeable” to fee payers, though the PSEA erroneously based its 2011-12 fair share fee calculation on the new, higher NEA fee.
Just after Thanksgiving, the PSEA sent out a refund letter to more than 5,000 Pennsylvania fair share fee payers. The incident demonstrates that only official union members can be charged for the union’s political activities, and it is a serious breach when unions apply such charges to fee payers.
In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Knox v. Service Employees International Union gave fee payers extra protection by ruling that unions may not increase dues on fee payers without first notifying them and giving them the chance to opt into paying the higher amount. In short, because full union members pay for political activities with their dues, U.S. law protects fee payers’ constitutional rights against funding forced political speech and activities.
5. If you’re a fee payer, you may challenge how the union calculates your fair share fee.
You must do so within 40 days of receiving your Hudson notice, and by law, the contested amount will be placed in escrow. You may also challenge your fee on religious grounds, although you won’t receive a refund—with the union’s agreement, the fee will instead go to a non-religious charity. For more information on challenging your fee, contact Free to Teach, the Keystone Teachers Association, or the National Right to Work Foundation.
6. If you are unhappy with how your union spends your money on politics—or for any other reason—you may resign your union membership.
Collective bargaining agreements may impose a “maintenance of membership” requirement, which allows educators to resign only during a designated window, often towards the end of their contract. Legal experts believe that such provisions violate workers’ First and 14th Amendment rights, and so may be subject to legal challenge.
If your school district does not require agency fees, you will save your full union dues. For PSEA school districts that require agency fees, you can save the difference between dues and fair share fees—about $200 if you’re a full-time teacher. Other types of school employees who must become fee payers will save different amounts.