Did you remember to buy a present for your boss last month on Boss's Day? The teachers of the Susquehanna Township School District in central Pennsylvania didn't experience the embarrassment of forgetting the chief because two of their colleagues, who happened to be union representatives, bought the principal a gift. When they repeatedly asked the other teachers to kick in $3 to recover the $200 they spent, some of the teachers balked. At the annual meeting of Pennsylvanians for Right to Work last week, a young eighth-grade math teacher, Ryan Mellinger, noted the irony of the teachers' negative response to the union representatives' cajoling for contributions.
Prior to signing on full time with the Susquehanna Township School District, Mellinger was a substitute math teacher. When a full-time eighth-grade math position opened up, Mellinger applied for the job. He had done such a marvelous job as a substitute that union representatives wrote letters recommending him for the position. Mellinger, who got the job, was unaware at the time that they were union representatives.
Shortly after signing on with the district, Mellinger was cajoled to join the union. Frustrated, Mellinger asked a union representative if she would rather have an excellent nonunionized teacher or a below average unionized teacher. She replied, "You really don't want to know." When questioned about which option would be best for the students, the representative replied that 100 percent unionization is taken very seriously.
Mellinger chose not to join the union, but he is still required to pay the organization $394 annually because his school district has an "agency shop" clause in its union contract requiring nonunionized teachers to pay their "fair share." Due to state law, local school boards and union influence, nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania school districts are agency shops. Moreover, according to state law, any of the nonagency schools could become agency shops as part of future union contract negotiations.
Pennsylvania is the state that gave birth to freedom and individual liberty, but it has turned its back on its heritage regarding compulsory union fees. Compulsory membership and fees affect not only teachers but thousands of workers throughout Pennsylvania in a variety of businesses that have union contracts. The results are an economic disaster. According to a Mackinac Center for Public Policy study, states with compulsory union membership or fees lost 2.18 million manufacturing jobs from 1970-2000. States that do not allow such union coercion have created 1.43 million manufacturing jobs.
Mellinger is experiencing the economics of coercion as well. He thinks he would be better off if he could save or spend his $394 as he sees fit. He is only one of two teachers in his district building who are not union members. Those two teachers alone would have nearly $800 each year to invest or spend in their local economy. How many silent Mellingers would do likewise if given the choice?
A recent poll by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found that 56 percent of Pennsylvanians—nearly an even split between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats leading the way—believe there shouldn’t be state laws requiring compulsory union membership and fees. Some Pennsylvania legislators believe the same, which is why Sen. Mary Jo White has drafted an agency shop repeal bill. If you support such a measure, then contact your state senator and ask him or her to co-sign White's bill.
There is much to be done to return freedom and economic prosperity to Pennsylvania. Given its history, Pennsylvania should be a model of freedom. Giving the gift of freedom to teachers and workers is a good place to start.