Vermont bill is a mockery of fairness

History teacher Peter Berger is a member of the NEA because he wants to be, but he makes an eloquent and cogent argument for those who are forced into membership or representation. Here are Mr. Berger’s own words, in the Stowe Reporter Online.

Apparently my dues, and the dues of other teachers who voluntarily join the union, aren’t enough. The association nationally and in Vermont has been lobbying since at least 1988 for an “agency fee,” or what it euphemistically calls a “Fair Share” law. This proposed act requires school boards to deduct eighty-five percent of normal union dues from non-union teachers’ paychecks and turn that money over to the National Education Association.

The union’s proffered justification is that nonmembers benefit from the contract negotiated by the union. That rationalization makes some initial sense. However, it fails to tell the whole story.

If you enter a restaurant and choose to buy lunch, the owner has the right to charge you for lunch, and you would expect to pay for it. If you choose not to buy lunch, you’d rightly expect that you wouldn’t have to pay for it. That’s because you have a choice.

Having taken from me the right to negotiate my own contract, the union now wants to charge me for something I never wanted it to do. This is like having a customer decline to order a sandwich, allowing the proprietor to cram most of it down her throat, and then making her pay for eighty-five percent of it.

Do you like that picture?

If the National Education Association would allow each teacher the choice of either participating in the union’s negotiated contract and accepting union representation in disputes, or negotiating a non-union contract with his local school board and representing himself, then I would defend the union’s right to charge participating teachers an agency fee. However, if you don’t allow me to decide whether I want you to act as my agent, you don’t have the right to force me to pay you a fee. Compelling me to pay that fee is indefensible.

Does anyone not realize that compelling teachers to pay almost full dues for virtually nothing — no liability insurance, no legal representation — will lead many to conclude that they might as well join the union and at least get something for their money?

In its press release to members, the association laments that my union “brothers and sisters” and I have carried this “unfair” burden too long.

And if I have professional brothers and sisters, they are my fellow teachers, not my fellow union members. And as I would not reach into my sister’s pocket to steal from her, I would not steal from other teachers, who for whatever reason choose not to belong to an organization so reprobate and without conscience that it would stoop to picking working teachers’ pockets against their will.

I recognize the legislature’s right to take my money through taxes and apply it for the public good. But this is not a tax, and this act serves no public good. It doesn’t serve the people or any portion of the people.

I cannot believe that is the deliberate intention of my state’s elected representatives, yet that would be the result of their actions if they enact this statute.

I hope my representatives, charged with doing the people’s business, will withhold their hands from something so unconscionable.

Peter Berger teaches English at Weathersfield School. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.