Should Non-Union Teachers Be Required to Pay Agency Shop Fees?


Susan Staub, former Staff Director, Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism (CEAFU)

The question could also ask, “Should eminently qualified teachers be required to pay a private organization for the privilege of keeping jobs they obtained on their own initiative and retained by their own merit?”

The answer, of course, is a resounding, “No!”

Yet, teacher union officials are demanding that educators all over America be fired if they refuse to pay union dues and fees.

And the demands are being met.  Literally tens of thousands of teachers in 20 states and the District of Columbia would be fired if they chose to stop paying dues.  Experience, dedication, qualifications – even  tenure  are irrelevant.

The “agency shop” is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.  There is no argument about that.  But the overriding question is not whether it’s legal – but whether it’s morally right.

Union officials base their demand for payment of fees in lieu of membership (agency shop) on the premise that they have to represent all members in a bargaining unit; therefore, all should pay.  They claim those who don’t are “riding free.”  That simply isn’t true.

What they don’t say is that they demanded that the government give them the privilege to represent all members of a bargaining unit.  (They call it “exclusive representation” – through “monopoly bargaining” is a much more accurate description.)  Because lawmakers gave in to that demand, teachers who want to represent themselves are not allowed to do so.

Now union officials claim that monopoly bargaining (exclusive representation) is a burden on dues-paying members.  Therefore, they insist, teachers who refuse to pay up should be fired from their jobs.

If union officials are serious about the representation of nonmembers being a burden, then the equitable solution is to let teachers who reject union membership fend for themselves.  Require unions to bargain only for those persons who want their services.  After all, if a union is unable to show its benefits to be attractive – if it does the best job – then teachers will want to join, and the co-called “free rider” problem will be solves.

We don’t believe anyone should be denied the right to join a union.  But we also don’t believe anyone should be forced to join or pay a union not of his or her own choosing.  So we’ll work with any union to remove the unfair “burden” of representing everyone.  Teachers must wake up to prevent this ruin of individual liberty.

It is absolutely untrue that those of us who oppose coercive unionism are anti-union.  There is a difference.  It’s the same distinction as between being against unresponsive and inadequate school officials and being against all school management.  We aren’t against teachers, we’re for teachers – every single, individual one.


says Albert Shanker, late president, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Whoever thought up the slogan “Right To Work” was a master of public relations.  Even though the slogan caught on, it is very misleading.  The issue is not whether anyone has a right to work.  It is whether there is any justification in requiring employees who do not wish to join the union which represents them, to pay union dues or an amount equal to union dues, commonly called an agency fee.

For teachers and other public employees, the constitutional issue has been settled.  In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court ruled last spring that the agency fee was constitutional.  Why did the Court reach this conclusion?

Under our labor laws, employees themselves decide whether or not to be represented by a union.  In a typical situation, a union claims to represent the employees and produces evidence.  One o more other unions may then also claim to represent the employees.   An election is held and one of the ballot choices is “No union.”  If there is no clear majority on the first ballot, there is a runoff between the two top choices.  When a union is selected it is the choice of the employees and that union is required under law to represent all the employees in the bargaining unit, whether they are members or not.  Unions resemble governments, providing services for all in their territory.  Police and fire protection, pollution control, defense, and other services are provided for all residents – not just those who want the services and not merely those who vote.

A union chosen to be the bargaining agent must negotiate salaries, pensions, holidays, and other conditions of employment for all.  It is illegal to negotiate them for members only.  Furthermore, even after benefits have been negotiated, the union is required to administer and police the contract on a day-to-day basis.  It must provide for legal, grievance, and arbitration costs.  It must employ a lobbyist or pay dues to state and national affiliates to insure that what was won is not taken away.

How should all these services be supported?  In society at large, services provided for all are not paid for on a voluntary basis.  We do not allow Mr. Smith to say that if he does not believe in or need police or fire protection, he will not pay for them.  Those who have fought against unions under the slogan “the right To work are not fighting against the agency fee. They know that without adequate financing for the work of unions, unions are weakened, and so is their ability to deliver for all employees.

The “Right To Work” is a misnomer.  It really means the right to work without union protection, the right to work for lower wages, the right to work under conditions of exploitation.  Teachers who only recently gained a real voice in their own professional destiny, know this.  They will not be fooled.

Reprinted from INSTRUCTOR magazine, Copyright March,1978.  Used with permission.