Paycheck protection, Mary’s Law, or any other name used to describe the desire of some to intercede between employees and employers in Pennsylvania is a truly misguided and malicious attack on teachers and their best representative organization —their union.
For some time now, a movement —primarily by lobbying groups that are funded by special interests and aimed at weakening unions — has been pushing legislation crafted by Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Peach Bottom.
This legislation would make deducting voluntary union dues from teachers’ paychecks illegal.
What is amazing about this is the claim that taxpayer resources are being used to collect these dues, and that this is an unjust burden on society. These dues dollars are determined, calculated and disbursed by electronic fund transfer. There is no person keeping a ledger, writing a check, licking a stamp, sealing an envelope and sending it off via the U.S.s Postal Service.
There is at most a negligible cost — perhaps indeterminably small — associated with this deduction. Mind you, the union has no objection to paying this minute fee to ensure the taxpayer burden is absolutely zero.
Some teachers elect to utilize this method to spread their dues payment over several months, as opposed to writing a lump sum check. But the organizations that wish to see Mary’s Law pass next year equate this voluntary deduction with criminal behavior.
They have likened it to the cases of several state legislators and jurists who have been charged with or convicted of using their official office staff and resources for partisan purposes.
Attempting to draw a parallel argument between corrupt legislators who have violated existing law with a simple accounting practice that is presently legal should be such an affront to logic that it be laughed off the public stage.
Again, Mary’s Law would serve to make illegal, for Pennsylvania teachers, a contractual provision that is currently legal. Is this practice so abhorrent that is deserves to be criminalized?
Another argument regarding dues deduction is that it offers an unfair political advantage to the unions and that union dues are used for partisan political activities. While it is true that a small proportion of dues can and are legally used for purposes such as direct communication to union members, no direct political contribution to political candidates ever comes from dues. Such contributions are made from separate and completely voluntary donations made at a member’s request.
Perhaps it would be better to allow any employee the ability to set up an electronic funds transfer — as now exists for 401(k) payments, child support or health care premiums. This would empower workers to deduct payments from their paychecks for any organization they choose.
There are many legitimate conversations that can be held on public education in our state and nation. But if we truly want the best teachers in the classroom, free to teach and challenge all our children to reach the highest levels possible, then we need to allow teachers a professional organization that protects the fundamental principles that support effective teaching and learning.
One final aspect publicly raised by the groups pushing this legislation is that not all teachers support all positions of the state and national unions, and hence payroll deduction should not be available to collect their dues.
I would encourage any teachers with this view to consider becoming more actively involved in their local association and provide their input on the positions the union takes.
Rather than tearing down an organization that benefits the profession for the gain of the students, help to steer the efforts of the union in a spirit of engaged compromise.
Ultimately, the union represents teachers. But I also would offer that teachers — who can take risks in creating effective learning environments for their students because of the provisions of due process — are in turn able to advocate for their profession and most importantly for their students.
Paycheck protection is part of a well-financed and coordinated attempt to dismantle this system, and should be opposed on this basis.
Steven Heffner, a McCaskey High School teacher, is president of the Lancaster Education Association, the union representing teachers in the School District of Lancaster.