By Ashley Johnson
Most people know how frustrating it is to get out of a cable-TV contract without jumping through hoops, paying heavy fines and dealing with bloated bureaucracy.
As it turns out, teachers who want out of their union probably have more in common with these frustrated cable-TV customers than most people realize.
Both are enticed by promises of exceptional service at low prices, only to find themselves later unable to leave when their bills start rising or the lofty promises that were made during the sales pitch fail to materialize.
Taking a cue from the type of cable-TV contracts that discourage and even penalize customers for leaving, Nevada teacher unions employ similar tactics on their very own union members: teachers are only permitted to opt-out during the first 15 days of July each year.
If a teacher wishes to opt out but misses that 15-day window, they are stuck paying union dues for another year — talk about a bad case of “buyer’s remorse!”
Remarkably, this incredibly narrow window for opting out isn’t even the worst of it. Because unions bury this information deep in the 60-plus pages of their collective bargaining agreement — the union equivalent of the “terms and conditions” language no one ever reads — most teachers don’t even know they can opt out at all!
But the option is there — if you can find it.
Tucked away on page fourteen of the seventy-page bargaining agreement is Clark County School District’s (CCSD) opt-out procedure. Washoe Education Association (WES) kindly listed theirs closer to the front, located on page six of the sixty plus page booklet.
During all the fanfare of starting a new career in teaching, new teachers are instructed to simply sign on the dotted line.
And just like cable-TV customers who skim through the terms and conditions without noticing the $150 “termination fee,” teachers generally sign their name without so much as noticing they don’t have to stay in the union forever.
These brand new, wide-eyed teachers are told they will have access to union resources insurance, and enormous other benefits — supposedly.
Some teachers love their union and will decided to stay for the rest of their teaching careers. Kudos to them.
Others, however, find the promised benefits aren’t worth the nearly $800 in annual dues they cost, and would prefer to keep their hard-earned money in their own pockets.
Undoubtedly, burying this information and limiting the ability to opt out is an effective way of ensuring most teachers never leave. No wonder big cable and phone companies have been doing something similar for decades.
But word is starting to get out that being a teacher doesn’t have to mean belonging to a union. In fact, for many teachers, there are much better options than union representation.
Interestingly and perhaps very telling, the more teachers hear about the opt-out period, the more union membership drops — a clear indication that many teachers don’t consider their union is adequately representing their interests.
Since the Nevada Policy Research Institute began highlighting the opt-out period in 2012, membership has dropped by 3,500 members for the Nevada State Education Association. Last year alone, both CCSD and WCSD saw 1,500 teachers choose to leave their union.
Evidently, all it took was someone to read the fine print and make an announcement.
As with most other terms-and-condition contracts, the union’s CBAs make opting out as inconvenient and as inconspicuous as possible — not only weaving the procedure into lengthy agreements, but also establishing the opt-out period during summer when work is nearly the last thing on teachers’ minds.
Our teachers deserve to be treated with honesty and respect, not dubious schemes designed to keep dissatisfied members paying dues to a union they no longer wish to be a part of.
So if you are a teacher in Nevada and realize your union is not what you’d thought it would be, don’t worry.
You can choose to opt out.
But you better be quick, because unions are hoping that while you’re enjoying your summer vacation, you didn’t notice the fine print tucked away in their terms and conditions.
Ashley Johnson is an independent contributing associate to NPRI. She focuses on publications, new media efforts, analytics, and independently conducts research on education policy issues.
If you’re a teacher interested in opting out, click here for a pre-written opt-out letter to send to your union.