On Thursday, the House Rules Committee approved SB 634, which would prohibit school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks unless they obtain a written authorization every year. Another provision of the bill has the state provide free liability insurance to any public-school employee. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin voiced opposition to the bill, stating that it is an attack on public educators and the people and organizations that fight for them. However, according to House Speaker Pro Tem Terry O’Donnell, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, those claims are unfounded. He stated that it is the best pro-teacher bill run in the Oklahoma Legislature in years. So, which is it?
Let’s take a look. First, if SB 634 becomes law, teachers who do not wish to continue paying dues to a union will not have to proactively take steps to end dues deductions; they simply won’t sign the re-authorization form. Instead of the burden being on the teacher, this bill shifts the burden to the school district and the unions. Interestingly enough, employers are already required to get re-authorization from employees for other payroll deductions such as health insurance. The bill also provides teachers with free liability insurance, one of the benefits that unions provide, at the cost of approximately $1 million to the state.
An objection raised by multiple members of the committee is the alleged cost associated with the bill. The Minority Floor Leader claimed that it would cost her school district $100,000 to implement. Representative Chris Kannady stated that it would cost Moore Public Schools $40-50,000. These numbers do not pass the smell test. According to Jonathan Small, President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, “The bill literally requires nothing more than a single piece of paper and an email to determine if teachers wish to have union dues deducted from their paychecks. The process could take literally just one or two minutes to complete for most teachers.” How could a single form sent out once a year cost a school district $100,000?
It is worth noting that the teacher’s unions and other professional organizations are very opposed to this legislation. For example, an article on the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) website claims that the bill is an attempt to silence the voices of teachers. Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE), which markets itself as the non-union alternative to the OEA or the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), spent an entire paragraph describing how hard it is to sign a form and respond to a verification email. This begs the question: what are they afraid of? To act as if it is an excessive burden to get the informed consent of their members before taking their money is almost humorous. If they believe that somehow hurts them, one has to wonder why.
Are they afraid that if teachers understand that they do not have to participate in these organizations and can do so without repercussions that they will lose members? If these organizations are as vital as they claim to be, and the teachers need them as badly as they would have us think, then this requirement should not present any issue for them. The real problem these organizations have is that teachers might just find out they don’t even need to join them in the first place.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.