Every year, teachers spend hundreds if not thousands of their own dollars to ensure students have access to basic supplies. Given their tremendous sacrifices, shouldn’t these educators have the assurance that their dollars and union representatives are truly working on their behalf?
Thankfully, a few state Senators are doing just that. The Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support (FACTS) Act, also known as the Paycheck Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Gardenhire and Sen. Gresham will protect teachers from union abuses and dark money politics, keeping more money in the pockets of teachers and getting the State out of the business of subsidizing political superPACs.
How did Tennessee ever get into this situation? It’s a mix of a Supreme Court decision, lax enforcement, and the greed of union bosses.
Since 2011, state law has set a clear divide between collection of dues for collective bargaining and collection of dues for the union’s political activity. School districts will subsidize dues for collective bargaining, but not for contributions to PACs. This divide protects teachers who wish to join a union but don’t want to support speech they don’t agree with. Whether they are pro-choice or pro-life, Republican or Democrat, teachers shouldn’t have to choose between union representation or their own integrity. These rules used to be straightforward.
But unfortunately, for Tennessee teachers, one union has decided to re-write the rules on their own, using the same dark money tactics they’re so quick to condemn. When National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia described the Citizens United decision as “stifling the voices of America’s workers,” she forgot to mention that the NEA had already formed its own SuperPAC, the “NEA Advocacy Fund,” which relies almost entirely on member dues to function. In 2014, this SuperPAC dumped over $35 million into federal and state elections that year, with no reporting or disclosure to teachers required. Nearly all of their activity was used to support Democrats over Republicans.
In order to join the Tennessee Education Association, members must kick up hundreds of dollars to the NEA (and therefore to the NEA Advocacy Fund) each year. Using this SuperPAC, the NEA is using teacher dues to actively campaign for Hillary Clinton, spent union funds to support passage of Obamacare, and consistently endorsing policies ranging from abortion to gun control at its annual National Convention.
Realistically, educators have no way to hold these union bosses responsible. And under current law, neither does the state, which is still allowing school districts to use taxpayer dollars to support the collection of these funds.
But Tennessee lawmakers are finally stepping up to protect teachers from these abuses. On a bi-partisan vote (including every African-American member of the Democratic caucus), the State Senate passed the Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support Act (FACTS). The FACTS Act would require that politically active unions will have to compete for contributions just like every other political group.
Of course, the TEA opposes this measure, fighting for their own special slice of the taxpayer pie.
But it’s time for transparency in politics, and for Tennessee to stop footing the bill for the dark money games of the union. It’s time for the TEA to face FACTS.