Foundation Advises Teachers on Union Rights

A woman standing in front of a class with her hands raised.

Unions have various subtle and not-so-subtle ways of “punishing†those they represent (members and nonmembers) when these workers choose not to go the union way.  National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens, offers advice on how teachers who have become disillusioned with their membership can protect themselves.  Cole Lauterbach reports on teacher who cross the picket lines in The Center Square. 

Amid teacher strikes across the state, some teachers have decided to go back to work before their union reaches a deal and could face fines or other punishment when classes resume.

Since mid-September, there have been seven teacher strikes in Illinois. Two of those are still going. In that time, hundreds of teachers have crossed their unions’ picket lines to return to work. What happens to them when the union later reaches an agreement with the school district? 

The Chicago Public Schools strike has been going on since Oct. 17. Since then, NBC Chicago reported that 400 teachers have crossed the picket line, defying the Chicago Teachers Union.

On the Chicago Teachers Union website, the union noted this is a violation of the organization’s constitution. The union said the workers could be tried by the union’s board and expelled from the union if found guilty.

Other unions have similar provisions, often with fines to dissuade workers from crossing a picket line.

“We’ve had workers where the union attempted to fine thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands of dollars, for defying the official union strike orders,†said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

Semmens’ foundation co-represented Mark Janus in his landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory over the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. The high court struck down fair share dues, ruling that such dues were unconstitutional for public-sector unions.

The National Right to Work Foundation said it is offering free advice to union teachers who go back to work in defiance of their union. To avoid the trial and potential for fines, Semmens said he recommended the teacher first leave the union. 

“They do have the right to return to work,†he said. “The best way to do so to protect themselves from this internal union discipline system is to become a non-member and then go back.â€

Teachers who leave the union can keep their job, Semmens said, and benefit from the collectively bargained contract. That has been a bone of contention with unions who contend that the fair share dues – now illegal because of the Janus decision – were in compensation for that benefit.

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