Education

Teacher union dues-authorization measure advances

April 8, 2021

Ray Carter

Legislation requiring that schools obtain annual reauthorization from employees before withholding union dues from their paychecks has easily passed out of a House committee.

“If an employee wants to drop out of any organization and stop having their dues collected out of their paychecks, an employer has an absolute responsibility to do that,” said Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.

Senate Bill 634, by Sen. Julie Daniels and O’Donnell, requires schools to obtain annual reauthorization from district employees for union-dues paycheck deductions on “a form prescribed by the Secretary of Education.”

The bill states the form must contain the following statement in 14-point boldface font: “I am aware that I have a First Amendment right, as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, to refrain from joining and paying dues to a professional organization or making political contributions. I further realize that membership and payment of dues or political contributions are voluntary and that I may not be discriminated against for my refusal to join or financially support a professional organization. I hereby authorize my employer to deduct dues and/or political contributions from my salary in the amounts specified in accordance with my professional organization’s bylaws. I understand that I may revoke this authorization at any time.”

The legislation was also amended to create the “Educators' Professional Liability Insurance Program” for all school employees, including full-time and part-time personnel. That program would use state funds to provide liability coverage for all school employees of up to $1 million in coverage per occurrence.

O’Donnell said officials are still reviewing the potential cost of the insurance program. However, when a similar measure was filed in 2019 to provide up to $2 million in liability coverage per school employee, a fiscal analysis showed it would cost about $168,675 annually.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, noted Oklahoma is a “right to work” state where people cannot be forced to join a union and workers have the option to leave a union, and asked why additional safeguards are necessary.

O’Donnell said some unions have made it difficult for teachers to easily withdraw.

“What’s gone on in the past is there’s been some considerable gamesmanship that goes on between the particular organization (and its members),” O’Donnell said. “They may create an artificially narrow window in which that request must be submitted. For instance, if you sign up in August and you decide that you want out in November, you may have to pay dues all the way until that ensuing August. This bill clarifies that once you are out, once you want out of the organization, you are out of the organization and they can no longer collect dues.”

Virgin claimed the bill creates dramatic new expenses for school payroll staff.

“You’re significantly changing how they do business and requiring reauthorization each year,” Virgin said.

O’Donnell noted the process only requires providing a card for employees to sign that verifies their desire to continue with union-dues withholding.

“I don’t see that being any administrative burden at all,” O’Donnell said.

Virgin said officials with the Norman Public School district claim the bill will increase their administrative costs by more than $100,000 annually.

O’Donnell said he did not “know where that number comes from” given the simplicity of the process.

“I think you’re being hoodwinked by your district and it’s just being invented,” O’Donnell said.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association union, was the most visible opponent of the legislation and also claimed processing the form would wreak financial havoc in schools.

In a tweet, the Oklahoma Education Association stated, “At the end of the day, SB 634 is a huge waste of time and money. Our support staff and administrators are already stretched thin. This will suck up countless hours and taxpayer dollars.” The organization also issued another tweet regarding the bill that included a graphic declaring, “What is the [email protected]#$-ing point?”

Virgin said the bill is unnecessary and targets teacher unions.

“You hear a lot, ‘It’s a solution in search of a problem,’” Virgin said. “That’s what this is, but it’s also an attack on our public educators and organizations that represent them.”

O’Donnell said the legislation’s purpose is straightforward.

“This bill is quintessentially reasonable,” O’Donnell said. “We ask that professional educators and school personnel that want to join any professional organization understand that they have First Amendment rights, and if that organization deviates from what they stand for they have the right to exit that organization at any time.”

SB 634 passed the House Rules Committee on a 9-2 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.