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Voices: Colorado's teachers have a choice

Tim Farmer, policy director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators, argues that teachers should be informed about their ability to opt out of unions.

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School’s out for summer here in Colorado, which leaves ample time during the day for students to relax–and for their teachers to recharge and reflect. That makes it an ideal time for last week’s National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to educate employees, like teachers, of their freedom to decide whether union membership is right for them. This is particularly important for Colorado educators, who should use this occasion to exercise their right to choose an organization that best meets their needs.

The fact is, there are many employees across the country, and right here in Colorado, who are no longer interested in paying exorbitant dues to unions that they feel do not represent their values. The data on this point is clear: National Employee Freedom Week’s coalition partners recently released scientific surveys of union households across the nation, and one in three respondents indicated they would opt out of union membership if given the chance.

For years, educators have joined teachers’ unions with the assumption that their money advances their profession. Unfortunately, the National Education Association and the local Colorado Education Association have morphed from respected education associations to behemoth special interest groups that are more interested in partisan politics than listening to their members.

Educators nationwide have grown increasingly frustrated by the partisan political spending, high dues, and adversarial tactics of their labor unions. In 2012 alone, 140,000 educators left the NEA. This mass exodus has not only gained headlines but has left teachers questioning the value of pricey union membership, which can cost a teacher over $800 a year in Colorado.

While there are thousands of teachers here in Colorado who freely exercise their right to opt out of union membership, many educators are unaware of their options due to roadblocks set up by unions and state laws that favor union bosses over teachers.

Depending on the district, Colorado teachers are beholden to arbitrary “drop” periods that extend their payments to unions in perpetuity, unless they cancel during short two week windows of time.

Such misinformation and convoluted opt-out requirements may be effective for keeping members in the fold, but they’re anti-teacher and trample a teacher’s freedom to choose. Our hardworking teachers deserve better.

Take for instance, Ronda Reinhardt, a public school teacher in Denver. Ronda spent years as a member of the DCTA, her local union. She discovered the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE), a professional association that provides teachers with legal and liability benefits for a fraction of the cost of a union. This made more sense for her financially and she attempted to terminate her membership in the DCTA. Unfortunately, her request missed the revocation deadline by a week and she was stuck in the union for another year. When all was said and done, she paid more than $800 to a union against her will.

Freedom of choice for employees like Ronda is at the heart of why the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE) was established as a non-union alternative to teacher labor unions. Our organization is adamantly opposed to any policy that bars educators from understanding the facts. We also believe that teachers, as college-educated professionals, should be able to decide whether union membership matches their own budget and beliefs, rather than being compelled into unions without a choice.

That’s why we’ve signed on in support of National Employee Freedom Week. Educators—as well as the rest of the Colorado’s employees—deserve to know what rights they have. Only then can they exercise their right to make informed decisions on where to send their hard-earned dollars.

Teachers are busy professionals with unique needs and beliefs; we should trust them to make decisions about where to spend their own money.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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