I’d had enough. As a California public high school teacher, by 2005 I could no longer rationalize being a member of my union. They had lost my trust.
Leaving my union was difficult because, like most of you, I generally do what’s expected of me. Many of us are educators in part because, as students, we did well in school—and we did so by following the rules. As teachers, being in the union seems to be part of following the rules.
But since becoming a teacher in 2000, I had sent nearly $1,000 per year to the national, state, and local union, only to watch them take my union dues and advance an unbiblical agenda that often had little to do with education.
Since then, the teachers’ unions have only grown more extreme, and the Christian educators in our nation are willingly, and unnecessarily, paying for it.
To gain a deeper understanding, let’s take a closer look at the unbiblical agendas infiltrating America’s public schools, the union’s role in advancing these agendas in schools, how the unions use our dues, some of the common objections we hear to leaving unions, and what options are available to those who leave.
Supporting an alternative religion?
In October 2021, a Black atheist Columbia University professor named John McWhorter published a new book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. In it, he writes, “I do not mean that these people’s ideology is ‘like’ a religion...I mean that it actually is a religion.”
McWhorter is no fan of religion, but he does point out something that many Christians miss. The “woke” ideology we see flooding into our schools does have many characteristics of religion, including its own version of “original sin”: privilege. It has its own dogma: a set of core beliefs followers cannot question and “clerics” whose opinions cannot be debated without risk of being canceled. “Woke religion” has a worldview: it defines human nature, history, and good and evil as functions of power dynamics between sexual, racial, or other identity groups.
This woke religion teaches our students to judge not with God’s word or even logical reason, but with an emotional response. For example, it promotes that:
- How I feel about my gender trumps my biology
- How your arguments make me feel trumps whether they are true
- My “lived experience” trumps any competing claim to reality
It goes without saying that as Christians, we should be leading the way in learning how to love our students and families across racial and gender lines, in teaching honest and inclusive history, and in removing barriers to success. This is part of our calling as ambassadors of Christ.
However, woke religion is leading our schools into radical gender ideology; pornographic sex ed; hostility toward traditional authority like police; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs often informed by critical race theory rife with discriminatory stereotypes.
Who is driving this woke religion into our schools? The teachers’ unions.
As evidence, one need look no further than this summer’s National Education Association (NEA) annual convention, where the NEA General Assembly passed resolutions (“New Business Items” or NBIs) committed to spending the dues of their nearly 3 million members to:
- Promote “police-free” schools (NBI A)
- Oppose legislation protecting girls’ sports from biologically male competitors (NBI 5)
- Promote critical race theory and the 1619 Project, while funding opposition research against groups that oppose CRT (NBI 2, 39)
As of this writing, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is running a campaign to support the Equality Act, which would bring radical policies on gender identity that encourage gender confusion in our students to all schools across the nation.
And there is no lack of funds to advance their agenda. Together, the NEA and the AFT have 4.7 million members and, together with their state affiliates, take in well over $2 billion annually.
Interestingly, Christian pollster George Barna has found that “nearly half of the nation’s public educators are practicing Christians—people who attend church at least monthly and say their faith is very important in their life.” Given these figures, it is easy to conclude that well over one million U.S. Christian educators are NEA and AFT members who, by paying dues to these unions, are unwittingly supporting woke religion.
Union Political Spending
So where does all of this money end up? The national teachers’ unions continue to donate almost exclusively to liberal and far-left political candidates and causes despite the fact that their spending does not reflect their membership. A 2017 Education Week survey found that 57% of educators identify as either Republican or Independent and only 29% consider themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.” Despite this, the NEA sent 98% of their political donations to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle. The AFT beat that—99.7% of theirs went to Democrats.
Not only that, but my research documented that during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles the NEA and the AFT sent $3.3 million to Planned Parenthood, but hid those donations by funneling them through leftist political advocacy organizations. On another occasion in 2016, the AFT didn’t even bother to hide the $350,000 of teachers’ dues directly contributed to Planned Parenthood.
When confronted with this information documenting how Christian educators are supporting an unbiblical agenda and one-sided political donations through union membership, I often hear two responses from teachers:
- “But I like my local union!”
- “But my union president told me I could opt out of the political part.”
"But I like my local union!"
First, I understand why some educators appreciate their local unions—they negotiate contracts and are available to answer questions or potentially defend their members. But many are not aware how little of their dues stay local. In every state for which the information is accessible, between 60% and 90% of dues do not stay local but instead go to the state and national unions.
For example, in California, teachers typically pay over $1,100/year for union dues. Only about $200 of that stays with their local union. This means that $900 of their dues go to the state and national unions, and a big chunk of those funds support political action. In states like Pennsylvania and Illinois, the situation is worse—only 10% of union dues stay local.
Since local unions still negotiate non-union members’ contracts and teachers are prohibited from joining only their local unions, I often suggest that if teachers value their local, simply quit their union and out of their refunded dues, send a donation to the local for the amount they would lose—usually about $100 or $200.
"But my union president told me I could opt out of the political part."
Second, a lot of teachers respond by saying they can opt out of the political part by checking a box on their membership application form. However, this checkbox is probably not what you think.
While the purpose of the checkbox varies (and I encourage you to read the fine print), it typically references a very small amount for local or state political spending. Whatever the checkbox does for your union, I guarantee that you are still contributing to the vast majority of their political spending.
Here are two reasons why:
1. The “checkbox” spending is usually only applicable to a small amount of money given directly to candidates, and typically only local ones at that.
2. The Wall Street Journal and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have exposed that the vast majority of political spending by unions is not controlled by the checkbox. For example, all of the following are paid for by dues regardless of any checkbox:
- Super PAC spending (the NEA alone sent $43 million to their super PAC in the 2020 election cycle)
- Get out the vote drives & voter education (e.g. those postcards they mail to your house telling you how to vote)
- Salaries of staff whose work is often 100% political
- Contributions to allied organizations that do political work
- Issue spending
If you were told that you could opt out of the “political part” by means of a checkbox, you have been misled.
Options for Educators
Thankfully, due to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME teachers now have a constitutional right to completely leave unions without paying any fees or becoming religious objectors. You can keep 100% of your union dues simply by resigning from membership in your union.
Often, resigning from union membership brings up a new set of questions, like whether salary or benefits will be impacted. While the short answer to that question is a simple “no,” get the answers to other questions you may have and more detailed explanations here. Also, ceai.org/unions has a process to generate the letters required to resign from union membership. Please contact CEAI for guidance if your union responds to your resignation letter by saying your opt-out window is closed or you need to meet with a union official first.
Finally, before resigning from union membership, join CEAI to ensure that your liability insurance and job protections remain in place.
Are teachers leaving unions? The data shows they are. NEA membership is at its lowest level since 2006, having declined 9% since a peak in 2009.
Given all of this, why aren’t more Christian educators leaving unions? Some worry that they will be singled out for retaliation or criticism at their schools. Others are concerned that their future and financial security will be negatively impacted.
However, as followers of Christ, we are called to trust God in all areas of our lives. We put our faith in a God who is able to redeem all things for our good and His glory. Let’s commit ourselves—and make an effort to persuade others—to stop supporting unbiblical values and one-sided politics by continuing to pay union dues. May we honor God with our courage.
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