Colorado Senate Committee Votes to Restrict Teachers Who Want to Leave Unions

Published May 8, 2012

A Colorado Senate Committee voted down a bill that would have ended the widespread practice of giving teachers approximately two weeks per year to end union membership. The measure had passed the House 33-32 on a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor.

House Bill 1333 would have required school districts to stop deducting union or teacher association dues for from a teacher’s paycheck within 30 days of receiving a written request to do so. It would also have granted all professional teaching associations, not just unions, the ability to have dues deducted from member paychecks and required labor organizations to make annual disclosures to members about how their dues are spent.

“Teachers are paying union dues against their will,” said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators. PACE is a nonunion teachers association. It provides teachers liability insurance and legal representation in employment disputes, but does not collectively bargain or engage in political activism.

‘Deceptive’ Practice
Farmer says a major impediment to teachers choosing to opt out of union membership is the unadvertised two-week period in the fall for doing so in many school districts, including 20 of the state’s largest. These encompass thousands of teachers.  

“I called the Denver Classroom Teacher’s Association to cancel my membership. I was told I missed the ‘revocation period’ and would have to wait until November 2012. I had no idea a revocation period even existed,” said Ronda Reinhardt, a Denver public school teacher. “I feel this is deceptive.… It pains me when every month they are taking $66 out of my paycheck to pay for things I don’t support.”

In Colorado, union dues cost between $750 and $850 per year. PACE membership is $180 per year.

“The public perception is there’s millions of teachers out there in lockstep with the union, ready to march, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Farmer said. “Half the teachers that join [do so] for the liability insurance.”

Teachers can currently request refunds of their union dues spent on political activities, but the process can be complicated and the most teachers can receive back is $63 each year, said Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst at the Independence Institute.

Party-Line Support
The bill’s prospects were unfavorable in the Democrat-controlled Senate, DeGrow said, because the state’s largest teachers union opposed the bill and support splintered along party lines, with Democrats opposed. Bill sponsor Rep. Jon Becker’s (R-Fort Morgan) wife is a PACE-affiliated teacher.

All the Republicans on the House Education Committee and House voted to approve the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it, DeGrow noted. DeGrow attended the House committee hearing on the bill, and said opponents’ argument centered on letting local school districts, and thus state-union-negotiated contracts, retain control.

“The state has an interest in protecting teachers from unfair treatment,” DeGrow said. “Teachers deserve options. It’s a policy of basic commonsense and respect.”

Obstacles to Teacher Choice
Colorado allows teachers to choose whether to join a union, unlike many states where teachers are automatically enrolled in a union as a condition of employment, but many school districts create obstacles to teachers choosing freely, DeGrow said.

One such obstacle, he said, is the extremely limited opt-out periods, and another is school districts automatically enrolling nonunion teachers back in the union unless they send a registered letter each year reaffirming their decision to stay nonunionized. If the letter misses the arbitrary deadline by a day, he said, teachers are stuck having union dues deducted from their salaries for the next year.

“The union does a poor and uneven job of informing teachers of all these different options, and it’s good to see that teachers have more options from groups like PACE that offer services teachers want,” DeGrow said. “Teachers should have the full right to choose membership and have all the information at their hands to make their own decision.”


Learn more:
“Colorado bill would make it easier for teachers to quit union,” Denver Post:

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