Check out our archived articles like this interview with former CEAFU founder and director Susan Staub in May, 1979 by World Research’s Inc:
INK: What is the background of the National Right to Work Committee and how did Concerned Educators grow out of that?
STAUB: The National Right to Work Committee was organized in 1955 as a citizens’ coalition. It was started as a result of the passage of the Federal Railway Labor Act, which authorized compulsory unionism for railroad employees. Five employees of the railroad formed an ad hoc committee to oppose the forced unionism provisions. That law, as you may know, provides for the “union shop”—the requirement to join the union after a specified period of time. One of those original railroad employees, Duke Cadwallader, is President Emeritus of the Committee twenty-five years later. They were all employees and that is important.
The National Right to Work Committee has always been an employee-oriented organization. Since the late sixties, the problem of compulsory unionism has been focused more and more in the public sector. In the private sector, the level of unionization has not significantly increased in about fifteen years. Unions represent only about 21% of the working people in the private sector.
But the problem of compulsory unionism in the public sector didn’t come into sharp focus until the late sixties. One of the reasons for this activity was the “unification” drive of the National Education Association (NEA), with its state and local affiliates. In the late sixties, the union promulgated a plan that would require an individual to join the local, state and the national association.
Therefore, individuals could not elect to belong to any combination of the three. That in itself doesn’t necessarily represent a compulsory unionism situation, since in most states at that time there was no requirement to join or support any of the associations.
Many educators, myself included (I was a classroom teacher in the sixties), were members of a local and state, but not the national association. When the NEA started pushing “unification,” I was one of the opponents. I saw a very large vested interest in the National Education Association. Up to that time, the NEA had been a relatively dormant, professional organization of some forty to fifty thousand members, and had not fluctuated that much one way or the other.
INK: At that time they weren’t involved in lobbying or political action, were they?
STAUB: It was minimal. But following unification in 1970, the NEA president said, “Within ten years I think this organization will control the qualifications for entrance into the profession, and for the privilege of remaining in the profession.”
In 1972, President Barrett said, “We are the biggest potential striking force in this country and we are determined to control the direction of education.”
The face of the association then changed dramatically. With the establishment and relative growth of the public employee coalition within-the AFL-CIO—represented largely by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the drive for monopoly representation privileges shifted to the public sector union officials with some problems not inherent in the private sector.
In spite of the union officials’ claims to the contrary, most persons do identify a difference between the private and public sectors. And therefore, they recognize serious difficulties in taking the industrial model of mandatory bargaining from the private sector. The NEA, through its “unification plan,” became one of the most serious promulgators of forced unionism.
In 1975, the National Right to Work Committee’s board of directors and several educator members of our membership at large, urged us to formulate a program aimed at the problem of compulsory unionism in education. We formed Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism, [now] a division and an identifiable extension of the National Right to Work [Foundation’s] already well-established education programs, to deal with the problem.
INK: I understand that the NEA now has 1.8 million members.
STAUB: It’s probably close to that, but no one seems to know precisely. However, in that 1.8 million, I think it is important to note that they apparently include their retired members, students, and categories of associates.
INK: Why is the NEA so much larger than the AFT?
STAUB: The National Education Association enjoys a very different stature than the American Federation of Teachers, and I believe that’s an important factor. The AFT is and always has been a trade union and has always billed itself as such.
It is the educators’ union in the international order of the AFL-CIO. On the other hand, Congress chartered the National Education Association over one hundred years ago as the National Education Association of the United States.
There are still many teachers today who will tell you that there is a big difference between the “association” and the “union.” When one says “union” to them, they think AFT and when one says “association,” they view that as an entirely different ideological organization.
The National Education Association, however, has been classified by the Internal Revenue Service as a labor union because it does in fact negotiate collective bargaining contracts and agreements and also, by the way, has more compulsory unionism agreements nationwide than the American Federation of Teachers.
But its identity as a “professional association” is one that’s been used by its officials to its advantage. The organization itself will use either “association” or “union” to its own benefit. If they’re talking in an area where a labor union of teachers would not be popular, then they refer to themselves as the Association.
INK: They sound like many politicians.
STAUB: They’re intensely political. My former school system in Virginia, for example, is a microcosm, I think, of the rest of the country. There, teachers have been members of their association for years. Many of these were local associations that had nothing to do with bargaining. In many states, there are no bargaining laws.
Individuals have been members since they started teaching because it was always thought the “professional” thing to do. Many of the educators who have been members of the NEA since the thirties, forties and fifties are appalled at some of the current practices of the organization.
INK: What are the benefits of joining a union such as the NEA? It seems that most of the benefits would be covered as public employees.
STAUB: Our organization doesn’t speak to that. But several other organizations do speak to the inappropriateness of mandatory collective bargaining in the public sector. Their argument is that teaching, for example, is service.
The basic wages, hours, and working conditions of employment are set by state statute. Therefore, the bargaining process becomes involved not in the traditional terms and conditions of employment, but in questions of educational policy.
I think that union officials have misled many educators to believe that they should have the main voice in determination of school policy and use of school funds. I think it’s important to differentiate the goals of individual educators, and the goals of NEA officials.
NEA was at one time billed as a professional association. But we have to recognize that this is not a benevolent society. That is, it is a large business with membership revenues to like to extend the National Labor Relations Act to the public sector, thereby, of course, extending the compulsory unionism policy to all the states.
The NEA has heretofore said that that model is not appropriate for the public sector and a different set of laws needs to be set up. However, they intend to effect the same compulsory unionism arrangement.
And last year, for the first time, the NEA agreed with what has been recognized as the American Federation of Teachers’ bill and endorsed the extension of the National Labor Relations Act to the public sector.
INK: Are there any unions in the public or private sectors that have supported non-compulsory unionism?
STAUB: Yes. Several small independent unions— ones which have broken away from the Nationals— deplore compulsion, but they are, unfortunately, in general, in the minority.
INK: So the unions feel they know what’s better for labor than labor does?
STAUB: It’s the activity of the union official, rather than the union member, who seeks to dictate, “what’s good for all,” yes.
Every independent public opinion survey on the subject of forced unionism shows the American public overwhelmingly in opposition to compulsory unionism arrangements. As many as 70% oppose compulsion, including 50% of all the union members surveyed.
INK: I can believe that. I was in a union myself and the only reason I joined that union was because I knew their medical benefits were very good. That was the only reason I took that job.
STAUB: We don’t oppose voluntary unionism. But we believe no one should be discriminated against because of his choice to support or not to support a labor union. That choice, either in the public or the private sector, should not be a determinant in getting or keeping a job.
INK: Are there any Right to Work cases in the courts right now?
STAUB: In 1973, the Michigan legislature passed a law authorizing the payment of “agency shop” fees. “Agency shop” does not require an individual to join a labor union. Therefore, many union officials say that it’s not compulsory unionism. But an “agency shop” requires that one pay a fee to the union—usually the same amount a member pays as dues—as a condition of employment. If the individual does not pay, he or she is fired. Dr. Anne Parks, a tenured teacher for 35 years in the inner city schools of Detroit, Michigan, was fired for refusing to pay dues to the American Federation of Teachers.
INK: So you don’t receive the benefits, but you pay the dues anyway?
STAUB: You’re assuming that there are benefits. An individual may not have what you or someone else considers a very viable reason for not wanting to join a labor union. But our point is that he must have a choice, no matter what his reasons. His continued employment must not be conditioned by whether or not he chooses to join or support a union.
All those who don’t wish to join that local, state, or national union, for whatever reason, are fired under “agency shop” if they don’t pay. That’s what happened to Dr. Parks in Michigan.
INK: Did she have the help of the Legal Defense Foundation?
STAUB: Dr. Parks did seek help from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. In 1969, some six hundred teachers filed suit opposing the “agency shop.” They objected to paying money to the Detroit Federation of Teachers for the union’s political, social, or ideological causes. They said, “We don’t think it’s right to have to pay, period. But certainly we shouldn’t be required to pay to support the political and ideological concerns of the union.”
The Legal Defense Foundation took the case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. And the Supreme Court decided unanimously that 1) there certainly is a constitutional issue involved in the payment of political, ideological, and sociological monies and 2) the Michigan courts would have to hear the case. That’s where they are now, back in the Michigan courts. The school board in Detroit had agreed they would not take any action against Dr. Parks and her colleagues until the case was resolved. Meanwhile, Dr. Parks continued to be-part of the school system. When the Supreme Court handed down their decision, the union insisted that, since the Court did not strike down “agency shop,” the case was over and urged the school board to fire her.
Dr. Parks had two choices, she could pay the money and continue to teach, or she could not pay and be fired. She decided that she could not pay. She said, “If my students don’t learn anything else, maybe they’ll learn that some people still stand up for principle.” The whole situation has not one thing to do with her merits as a teacher. She was in the middle of a program with her students and had asked if she could stay to finish the program with no pay. The union officials insisted that she be denied even that. She was barred from school grounds.
INK: That seems to show that the interests of the AFT are not necessarily those of quality education.
STAUB: If she had not had the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s assistance, there is no way that she and her fellow teachers could have taken that case through the courts.
Unless they’re independently wealthy, there is no way that individual educators are going to be able to fight an issue like this on their own. There are just too many delays that the union officials, with an enormous amount of money, can afford to go through, and an individual can’t. The NEA and the AFT officials – say, “Well, there are only a couple of people who have been fired; it’s not a big deal.” That’s not the point.
The point is not the few who’ve felt they had to stand up so far, who have said, “I’m not going to pay for something I don’t support,” it’s all those people in fourteen states where compulsory unionism is legal who would be fired tomorrow if they stopped paying. Just because they’re not dead, doesn’t mean there isn’t a gun pointed at them.
Take Sarah Barrie, for example. She is a teacher of 32 years who is the sole supporter of her family. There’s no way that she can refuse to pay. She says, “The Bill of Rights be damned, I’m a slave. I have to pay. I can’t quit, and I’m paying something I’m absolutely opposed to. I’m paying a tribute just to keep my job. My quality of service, my length of service, my merit as a teacher does not mean one thing. The bottom line is if I can’t pay these union dues, I’m not going to teach.” So it comes down to that power to tax, that power to coerce by the private organization, the teachers’ union.
INK: Does the NEA have any say in what is being taught in the classroom?
STAUB: We’re concerned about how persons committed to compulsion are going to teach freedom of choice, voluntarism. It is devastating to our whole concept of academic freedom.
If the NEA can tell an educator not what he teaches necessarily, but whether he teaches at all, that’s the ultimate threat to academic freedom. In some areas, they are influencing curriculum. For example, in Woburn, Massachusetts, the curriculum is selected by a curriculum committee of three teachers and three administrators.
That sounds fine. But the three teachers have to be members of the teachers’ union and the three administrators have to be members of the administrators’ union.
INK: So the bias is definitely toward compulsory unionism?
STAUB: That’s one part of what our program addresses. We work with teachers so that they can present the problem of compulsory unionism in its objective entirety. We also research the problem of classroom and instructional bias against the freedom of choice principle. We have found that there is a very definite problem of bias in the teaching of the American Labor Movement. This point was made very clear by a recent situation in Indiana. Indiana trade unions had helped support an illegal strike by Indiana teachers. When asked what “If a labor union can produce the results it says it can, people will join. If they demand compulsion, what are they saying about their union?”
“There is a very big difference between the American Labor Movement and the American Union Movement.”
The teachers could do to thank them, the union officials said, “Teach labor history.” “Labor” is not the same as union. We are each laborers. There is a very big difference between the American Labor Movement and the American Union Movement. We’re quite concerned about the promulgating of compulsion to students in the classroom.
We have reviewed over 200 textbooks and have found more than 60% of them to be inaccurate, purposely biased, or both. Our position is that if the American Labor Movement is to be taught, it must be taught in its objective entirety, which includes Right to Work. We believe that the student, given the opportunity to view all sides, will choose voluntarism on its own merits.
INK: Have there been changes made by publishers in response to your survey?
STAUB: Seven textbooks have been changed so far. To demonstrate the problem of textbook bias, we conducted a seminar at the Midwest Social Studies Convention in Chicago. We gave a quiz to the teachers in which all five of the questions were false, and most of the teachers knew that, although they did miss some.
What they didn’t know was that all five questions came directly from material given as facts in textbooks. If the teachers don’t know what’s accurate and what isn’t, certainly the students won’t.
And you know that the tendency is to think, if it is in the book, it’s “gospel.” We’re not required as teachers to program students, to teach them a particular set of thoughts, our own or anyone else’s. We are required to teach them to think and to teach them to be able to assimilate all of the facts and to make some decisions. And I’m convinced that we aren’t doing that with respect to the American Labor Movement.
Young people in a classroom are a captive audience; the power is enormous. The potential impact of a monopolized system of teachers, gained through compulsory unionism legislation, could literally change the face of the county in the next generation. We’re trying to reach out to other associations, to ask professional groups to deal with this problem.
INK: I understand that President Carter received a lot of financial support for his campaign from the NEA, so I found this quote by him to be interesting. “The fight against inflation becomes nearly impossible when special interest lobbyists are successful.”
STAUB: I wonder which special interest he’s talking about. I find that very interesting when he is pushing for a Department of Education— the number one goal of NEA, which is definitely a special interest group.
We aren’t opposed to a Department of Education per se, but we have suggested an amendment to the bill creating a separate department which would ensure that the authority and resources of such a department could not be used by the NEA or other special interests to advance compulsory unionism.
INK: How do the unions argue for the “agency shop”? (The mandatory paying of union fees whether one is a member or not.)
STAUB: The laws read that unions must represent everyone in a bargaining unit, equally and without discrimination. The union becomes the “exclusive representative” of teachers when its seeks that special privilege. They say, therefore, that those people who don’t want to be members ought to pay something for the “benefits” that they get. They claim these nonmembers are “free riders,” but the truth is these people are captive passengers. Even if they vote against the union, and they must accept the services of a union they didn’t want in the first place, “agency shop” requires them to pay for it. If union officials really feel it’s a burden to have to represent non-members, then they can change the law. The law reads that they have to represent everyone only because union officials demanded it be that way. We say, let’s not tax people who didn’t want the union in the first place; that’s no solution.
Let’s change the law so that union officials have to represent only the people who want their services.
INK: How do union people respond when you suggest changing the law?
STAUB: They’re not interested. The truth is, it’s not a burden to represent all teachers, it’s a special privilege. They want the monopoly power to represent them all, and then they want the special privilege of making them all pay.
Let’s assume a union obtains an “agency shop,” and then 10% of their membership decides the next year they don’t like what the union is doing. They can drop their membership, but the union is going to get their money anyway.
Where, then, is the incentive to be responsive to members? If an individual doesn’t control his dues dollar, he cannot think he controls the organization. The only means for dissent is that dollar; if the individual doesn’t approve of some union activity, the only way he can show that is to withdraw his support. But if he’s legally mandated to give his support as a condition of employment, then he’s locked into them—and he’s clearly a captive.
INK: The argument I run into sometimes in discussing social programs in general is that someone has to take care of people, that they need protection.
STAUB: Who knows what our best interests are? An individual must have the right to decide what’s best for himself, even if he finds later he may have been “wrong.” Removing individual choices in life removes the quality of life, the joy of being.
If a labor union can produce the results, it says it can, people will join. If they demand compulsion, what are they saying about their union?
Someone said in New York that, “If we don’t get this ‘agency shop’ law, our union will die.” If they can’t stay alive by any other means than compulsion, obviously they are not providing a service individuals want. Labor unions are the only private entity in our society that has been given the power of a government, the power to tax.
INK: It’s been my experience that groups who seek the compulsion of government control of a certain area are the ones who are not very competitive to begin with.
STAUB: I’ve seen nothing that would indicate disagreement with that.
In the case of the Right to Work Committee, if our contributors cease to contribute to our work, we will cease to exist. There are more than 1.5 million members of the National Right to Work Committee and CEAFU have about 30,000 members — all supporting us because they believe in our work.
INK: Does Right to Work legislation have an effect on employment?
STAUB: Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that the twenty Right to Work states have had more gains in new manufacturing jobs than all thirty of the non-Right to Work states. Last year’s figures were so dramatic; the twenty Right to Work states showed a gain and the thirty non-Right to Work states showed a loss in jobs.
INK: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
STAUB: Definitely optimistic. One person does matter, one person does make a difference. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all it takes for evil to prevail is for enough good people to do nothing. In the Right to Work movement, enough good people are doing something and union officials are being handed defeat after defeat because the people are saying no to coercive unionism. To be sure, there is a long way yet to go. But we’re convinced that if we are diligent, freedom of choice will prevail.
“We’re concerned about how persons committed to compulsion are going to teach freedom of choice, voluntarism. It is devastating to our whole concept of academic freedom.”
NEA estimated at somewhere between 46 and 52 – million dollars a year. That is a big business. I think that one would have to be naive not to assume that many of the goals set in the name of either “education” or “teachers” are, in fact, to the benefit of the perpetuation of the organization itself.
INK: Can you give us some examples of compulsory unionism laws?
STAUB: In the private sector, the federal policy on labor management relations is the National Labor Relations Act or the Wagner Act of 1935. There is no such law governing the public sector, so each state has its own set of laws governing its public sector employees. Statutes may differentiate groups of public employees so that they operate under different structures within the state and no two states are alike. –
Compulsory unionism in the private sector is authorized by the National Labor Relations Act. The only prevention for compulsory unionism in the private sector are Right to Work laws, sanctioned by Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley amendments to the NLRA. The major public sector unions have been pushing for a similar federal law over the public sector for years.
The AFL-CIO entities would. “We don’t oppose voluntary unionism . . . We believe no one should be discriminated against because of their choice to support or not to support a labor union.”