News from the trenches: Maine

One of the most interesting things about writing a book is hearing first hand accounts from people who have direct experience with what you are writing about.  During our research, we spoke to many teachers, union and non-unions, from across the United States.  But this week, I heard from a teacher in Maine, a state that we gave a grade F to in Shadowbosses because state law there does not protect teachers from being forced to pay union dues to get or keep their jobs.

But as this careful reader pointed out, this does not mean that teachers are required to pay dues or fees to a union in every school district in the state. ”Daniel from Maine” writes:

While Maine may not be a “right to work state” and does have the capability of forcing non-union members to pay agency fees, you fail to clarify this point and note that many local chapters of the NEA, in concert with their local school boards, do NOT choose to exercise this option.  As I noted, I have been a public school teacher since 1992 and have taught in two of Maine’s largest school districts.  When I was first applying for a teaching position I joined the NEA.  I soon found that the NEA was spending most of my dues to support political candidates for whom I would never vote for in an election and after about two years I stopped being a member of the teachers union.  Since then, I have not been a member, have not had “agency fees” deducted from my compensation, have not been bullied or intimidated by union members and have neither lost jobs nor been refused hire because I am not a union member.

There is little good that I personally have to say about the NEA.  I have found other liability insurance coverage for teachers which I believe is much better than the NEA.  The NEA has refused to represent on at least one incident involving a colleague, a card carrying union member when it should have stepped up and represented that person.  I do feel, however, that since you, in my opinion, did not fully research the local Maine opt out of agency fee collecting, that it tends to raise questions about the rest of your research and the conclusions that you draw.

My response was:

I am very pleased to hear that as a teacher in Maine, you have always worked in a school district that has refused to include a service fee requirement in the bargaining agreement.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that state law permits compulsory unionism, and that your situation could change at any time if the union negotiated for a contract provision forcing all teachers to pay dues.  The state of law doesn’t protect you adequately against this.  That was my point in categorizing Maine as a forced dues state.

Wouldn’t it be better if all teachers in Maine (and the United States) had the right to decide whether or not to support a union financially—as you do—and this protection were in state law?

Daniel from Maine agreed and added:

 When I dropped out of the union, I found that the Association of American Educators (http://www.aaeteachers.org/) provides a much better alternative to the NEA teachers’ liability coverage without the political dues collection.  You might check them out.  They collect for the insurance and office overhead.

You may certainly use my comments.  Anything that I can offer that is useful to turning around the overpresence of the all too political NEA in the sphere of public education is there for you to productively use.

Those of you with specific information about the union conditions in particular states and occupations are certainly welcome to contact me here with your insights.  I will publish the most interesting comments (with a pen name for you).  Please note that my correspondence with Daniel from Maine was edited for brevity.

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