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Teachers’ Unions Scramble to Remain Relevant

School may be out but the recent Supreme Court ruling that public employees cannot be forced to pay union fees has cut the teachers unions’ summer vacation short. Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality explains why in a pointed column on the opinion pages of the Star Tribune.

After the high court sided with Janus in Janus vs. AFSCME, public-sector workers will no longer be required to contribute to their unions, something nearly half of all states — including Minnesota — require regardless of whether teachers choose to belong to the union. The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), having just held its annual convention in Minneapolis, expects to be hard hit. It’s anyone’s best guess how many of the 78,000 active teachers who currently contribute to the Education Minnesota union will opt out in the years ahead, but the initial hit will almost certainly include some 7,000 teachers who have already registered their discontent over having been forced to contribute.

The author notes many teachers were already turned off on the union before the recent Supreme Court ruling.

The fast-flowing pipeline of dollars from teachers to unions ($600 million a year, nationally) is bound to be disrupted, and here’s why. Independent surveys consistently report that only half of all teachers see their union as “essential” and that many see dues as too high, political activity as too leftist (only half of all teachers voted for Hillary Clinton) and positions on education issues counter to schools’ paramount interests. And with much of this disaffection skewing toward younger teachers, the unions have their work cut out for them.

But will Education Minnesota and other NEA affiliates take action to be more responsive to their members’ needs? Walsh appears skeptical.

There’s one move that the NEA and its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers, could make that would keep more teachers in the fold, but it’s not clear that current leaders at either union will consider it. They should rethink the combative stand on issues that directly affect teachers and students, starting with their defense of really weak or toxic teachers.

The unions’ lockstep defense of seniority at the expense of teachers just starting out also turns off many younger educators.

Most teachers also recognize the harm yielded by seniority rights, though cherished by unions. That’s because they saw firsthand the harm of such rights. As novice teachers, many were assigned to impossible jobs at the toughest schools, as veteran teachers had moved on to take less-challenging positions. Few teachers have fond memories of their first year of teaching, knowing how they unwittingly let their students down.

It’s been only a couple weeks since the pivotal Janus decision. Yet there’s no indication the teachers’ unions have learned their lesson. In fact, the unions seem to be doubling down by threatening to force more teacher strikes this fall in a desperate move to remain relevant.

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