Ohio Teachers’ Unions React To SCOTUS Decision On Fees

A classroom at Cleveland's Campus International School. (Ashton Marra/ideastream)
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More than 100,000 Ohio teachers are members of their local union or education association, giving them clout when they negotiate contracts for wages and benefits, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision could have an impact on teachers’ collective bargaining strength in Ohio.

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the court ended the practice of collecting agency fees in public sector workplaces that are unionized.

Those fees were charged to nonunion members to help pay for services that unions are required to provide all employees in an organized workplace, like representation during contract negotiations.

“It could well hurt unions by giving them less leverage,” said Jonathan Entin, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Without the fees, there is less money to pay for staff and outside experts to aid in negotiations, Entin said.

“Plus the government agencies that are negotiating will perhaps have a little bit more leverage because they know that fewer people are actually committed to the union,” he added.

Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said much like any other union, collective bargaining for teachers gives them a say in their wages, benefits and working conditions.

Those working conditions don’t just impact teachers, though, Cropper said. They also impact kids in the classroom.

“[Teachers] can negotiate things such as smaller class sizes, or they can [negotiate to] be on leadership teams within schools that are making decisions about curriculum,” she explained. “There are just all kinds of day-to-day decisions that go into making sure we have the best learning environment for a student.”

But Cropper said she’s not worried that her union’s membership will decline because of the Supreme Court decision Wednesday.

In fact, Cropper said the national media coverage of teachers without collective bargaining rights in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma striking for increased wages and more funding for schools has helped strengthen her cause in Ohio.

“Our members in Ohio know that it is because they can negotiate at a local level and because they can have that collective power and that collective voice at a local level that we’ve been able to keep from falling into those dire situations that those other states have faced,” Cropper said.

In a written statement, the Ohio Education Association called the court’s decision a politically motivated effort focused on weakening collective bargaining and the voices of unions across the country.

The decision, however, was applauded by Robert Alt of the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute in Columbus.

Alt explained the decision requires consent from employees before the fees can be deducted from their pay, an opt-in system.

“I think that’s common sense. No one should be forced to support ideas with which they disagree and just common human decency says you should have to get their consent before you take their money,” Alt said.  

The decision won’t just impact teachers, but all employees working in the public sector.

More than 688,000 Ohioans are members of a union, in both the public and private sectors, about 13 percent of the state’s working population.

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