Lion’s Share of Teachers’ Union Dues Don’t Stay With Local Unions,
Pioneer Study Says

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Less than 16 percent of teachers’ union dues in several school districts in Massachusetts stays with the teachers’ local union, a Pioneer Institute study found.

The rest goes to state and national teachers unions that the teachers also belong to, according to the policy brief from the conservative think tank in Boston.

“The allocation of dues revenue is striking, given that most of the costs associated with the unions’ primary function — collective bargaining — are incurred locally,” says the four-page study, written by Rebekah Paxton, a research associate at Pioneer.

The local teachers unions studied are affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association, which together end up with more than 84 percent of the teachers’ dues.

“Due to the hierarchical relationship between national unions, the MTA, and the NEA, most dues revenue goes to the state and national organizations, where it funds administrative and political action costs,” the Pioneer study states.

The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy, hit back hard Wednesday, blasting the Pioneer Institute as a right-wing entity funded by anti-union interests.

Najimy also challenged the study’s contention that collective bargaining is primarily a local-union task, arguing that the state and national teachers unions provide valuable services to their members.

“The report’s author distorts the facts by contending that most of the costs associated with bargaining and maintaining contracts are incurred at the local level, when in fact the state and national unions pay the salaries of the field staff, organizers, lawyers, communications specialists, training staff, finance and accounting experts, print shop employees, regional office support staff, professional development providers and others who work with our locals to support bargaining and contract enforcement,” Najimy said in a written statement provided to New Boston Post by a union spokesman.

Paxton, asked about the teachers union president’s comments, countered that negotiating contracts and representing grievances of members are primarily local-union functions. She said most teachers never use certain services provided by the Massachusetts Teachers Association such as legal representation in firings, disciplinary hearings, and lawsuits from parents of students.

“While we understand why the MTA’s president would want to list the various ways in which she believes the state and national umbrella organizations support local union members, Pioneer prefers to trust local teachers to make decisions about union membership based on the amount they pay in dues and the value of the support they receive from these umbrella groups,” Paxton said in an email message to New Boston Post.

The Pioneer study published this week comes almost five months after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows public employees to opt out of paying unions money to cover the costs of collective bargaining if they also choose not to belong to a union. That money, known as an “agency fee,” had previously been required of public employees in many states even if they didn’t join a union, on the theory that they were benefiting from the union’s collective bargaining. But the federal Supreme Court ruled that such agency fees are unconstitutional because they violate free-speech rights under the First Amendment, since unions use money they get to advocate politically, including for ideas and candidates that individual employees may disagree with.

That court decision, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, released June 27, has been cheered by conservatives but criticized by union supporters.

The study makes reference to the Janus case.

“The analysis here further cements the importance of this decision. Massachusetts teachers deciding whether to join their union deserve to know that less than 20 percent of their dues (or agency fees) go to the local associations that aid union members the most,” the Pioneer report states.

That passage drew a sharp rebuke from the state teachers union president.

“This report is yet another attempt by the Pioneer Institute to persuade educators to drop their union membership. It won’t work. Our members understand that without a strong union at the local, state and national levels, their rights will be trampled on and their interests undermined,” Najimy said in the written statement. “… The Pioneer Institute is clearly dismayed that last June’s Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case did not lead to a mass exodus of members from public-sector unions. Since that decision was handed down, we are stronger than ever. This report won’t make a dent in that support.”

The Pioneer study provides union dues data from 19 teachers unions in Massachusetts.

In eastern Massachusetts, the school districts included are Abington, Arlington, Barnstable, Dracut, Framingham, Greater Lowell Regional Vocational Technical (in Tyngsborough), Haverhill, Marblehead, Methuen, and Nauset Regional (which includes the Lower Cape), Somerset, Wayland, and Westwood. The central Massachusetts districts are Clinton and Hudson. In western Massachusetts the school districts are Lee, Northampton, and Springfield.

Also included in the study is the Massachusetts State College Association, which has chapters on nine state college campuses (Bridgewater State, Fitchburg State, Framingham State, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (in North Adams), Massachusetts College of Art and Design (in Boston), Massachusetts Maritime Academy (in Bourne), Salem State, Westfield State, and Worcester State).

Among the local unions studied, total annual union dues per teacher ranged from $741 to $911 per year. (Teachers pay the same amount whether they are earning first-year minimum pay or the maximum amount on a salary schedule based on years of service and educational attainment, according to the study.)

While local unions’ dues vary, membership in the Massachusetts Teachers Association cost each teacher $494 for 2018, according to the study, while membership in the National Education Association cost each teacher $192 in 2018. Anything above that total ($686) is kept by the local union.

The years studied varied – from as long ago as 2010-2011 in Abington, to as recently as the current 2018-2019 school year in six other school districts.

Local union dues studied ranged from $60 in Lee for the 2016-2017 school year to $225 in Barnstable for the 2017-2018 school year.

Teachers typically have one amount for union dues deducted from each paycheck from the school district. That amount goes to the local union, which in turn makes payments to the state and national unions.

The study focuses on only 19 of the more than 160 local teachers unions affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association because those are the only ones the author could find detailed data for online, according to the report.

But Najimy noted that the state and national teachers unions cited in the study publish their dues allocation figures.

“Those dues are debated and approved each spring by a democratic vote of delegates to the MTA Annual Meeting. These delegates are elected in their locals to represent all members at the Annual Meeting. The dues-setting process is characterized by transparency,” Najimy said in the written statement.

The Pioneer report questions why non-members have little public access to the dues allocation figures of so many local teachers unions.