Disservice to Teachers Evident in Chicago Union’s Tweet

Disservice to Teachers Evident in Chicago Union’s Tweet
AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) recently tweeted: “We are completely frightened by, completely impressed by and completely in support of wherever this is headed.” The tweet was in a response to a video of demonstrators building a guillotine outside of Jeff Bezos’ home to protest Bezos becoming the first person to reach a net worth of $200 billion.

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Predictably, the backlash was immediate with teachers all over the country – including several belonging to CTU – voicing their disapproval. Perhaps finally recognizing the radical nature of the tweet, and presumably in response to a large amount of negative criticism, CTU removed the tweet just days later.

It was too late, however, to prevent Chicago teachers and the general public from realizing the union’s true priorities. Instead of focusing its energy on school safety and re-openings in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, CTU decided to spend its time and resources condoning threatening rhetoric against Jeff Bezos. Interestingly, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund held Amazon stock worth $86 million in 2019.

While certainly one of the more extreme cases, the tweet is an example of a teachers’ union persistent failure to advocate for issues directly affecting teachers and education more broadly.

However, any Chicago teacher who was outraged by the tweet and wishes to leave the union over CTU’s misplaced priorities will likely hit a brick wall. Teachers who want to end their $1,140 in annual dues payments are only allowed to end their payments during a specified opt out window.

Unfortunately, CTU’s opt out window ended on August 31st. Now, Chicago teachers hoping to end financial support of their union’s political posturing and support of violence will likely have to wait a full year before they are able to end their automatic dues payments.

CTU’s troubling tweet underlines a larger problem that many teachers face today: in many cases, unions have made it unfairly difficult for a teacher to opt out of paying union dues.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) that public employees cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. However, many teachers’ unions still limit the period in which teachers can opt out. In some cases, these opt out windows are as short as two weeks at the beginning of the school year, when teachers are busy setting up their classrooms and preparing for their students. In other cases, just calculating the opt out window is needlessly complicated because it’s based on your hire date, or the date you signed the form joining the union.

For example, teachers belonging to the California Federation of Teachers can only opt out “during the period not less than 30 days and not more than 45 days before 1) the annual anniversary date of… [agreeing to join the union] or 2) the date of termination of the applicable contract between the employer and The Local [union], whichever occurs sooner.”

This is not to say that you cannot leave the union outside of these opt out windows. Teachers unions are willing to let you out of union membership, so long as you keep paying dues until the next opt out window.

It is clear that teachers deserve better and deserve to make their own decisions about workplace representation on their own time. As recognized by Janus, Chicago teachers have the right to decide whether or not to continue funding a union that condones violent rhetoric ahead of advocating for teachers in the classroom.

If we trust our teachers to educate the next generation, we can trust these educated professionals to assess whether their needs are best met by union representation or representation from an alternative association. And instead of limiting when they can opt out to a few arbitrary weeks out of the year, CTU and all teachers’ unions should acknowledge the right of teachers to act on these decisions whenever they are made.

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