Imagine someone walking into your workplace and telling you that from now on, he is the only one who may speak for you. Imagine that he is your only voice, year after year, no matter how poorly he treats you and your colleagues. Imagine having to pay him for the privilege, straight from your paycheck. Imagine that he spends your money on his wishes, often on activities that undermine your work and values.
Now imagine asking for the chance to reconsider, a simple vote for you and your co-workers on whether to maintain this arrangement, only to be denied the chance even to be heard.
Does this sound pro-worker? Hardly.
Yet this is exactly the dysfunctional relationship that politicized union machines have forced on teachers and other public employees across Connecticut. And now, the union bosses’ pets in our state legislature have dutifully shut down discussion on two bills that would have empowered workers to hold union leaders accountable.
House Bill 5343 would have given public employees, like my fellow teachers, the right to vote at least every four years on whether to keep or replace their unions. A good union, a strong union — a union in spirit — that serves its members well would earn their votes and the supreme compliment of being recertified, while a weak or corrupt union that loses its members’ trust would be entitled no longer to a monopoly on bargaining power. Workers could choose a better one.
Apparently, this simple democratic notion scared Big Labor so much that the majority party in Hartford has made sure that it won’t see the light of day. House Bill 5343 will receive not even a public hearing … because why would legislators listen to real public servants in an open forum when they can listen to the soothing white noise of union lobbyists instead?
It is, sadly, far easier for lawmakers to do the bidding of their patrons at the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). This is less than surprising given that the NEA, for example, spends $2 on politics for every $1 that it spends on representing its members.
Money talks. No wonder union dues for many Connecticut teachers have surpassed $1,000 per year.
The dues-for-politics pipeline no doubt helps explain why another workers’ rights bill, House Bill 5183, has also been killed without a public hearing. This bill would require clear notice for public employees of their right not to be union members.
For many years, the law has protected teachers and other public servants from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment. Since 2018’s landmark Janus ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court, neither can we be forced to pay unions tribute in the form of “agency fees.” Yet, union bosses have done their best to hide these legal rights from the workers they purport to care about. It’s common, for example, for unions to bury membership cards in the piles of paperwork needing signatures from new hires, in hopes that these teachers will sign them hurriedly or think that union membership is mandatory.
In addition, Connecticut’s NEA and AFT affiliates use ridiculously narrow “escape windows” to make it as inconvenient as possible for teachers to leave. Ensuring clear notification of the right of workers to leave their unions would help put an end to such silly obstruction, but the legislature’s Labor & Public Employees Committee, co-chaired by state Sen. Julie Kushner, a union VIP herself, doesn’t even want to hear about it — literally.
Nonetheless, teachers do want to hear about it. As the NEA and AFT grew more politically extreme and thriftless in the last few years, more Connecticut teachers began to leave them. As our numbers grew, some of us formed a group called Constitution State Educators to inform our fellow teachers about their rights and options regarding union membership. Union bosses and lawyers at the state level, and in certain cities, spent a good deal of last summer trying to dissuade teachers from leaving. In my 17 years of teaching, it was the most time and attention I’d ever seen union officers pay to their rank and file.
Imagine: If the union bosses’ political pawns on Capitol Avenue would spend just a little time listening to public employees now, maybe the unions wouldn’t have to spend so much time talking at them later. Is a public hearing on these bills really too much to ask?