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Are member dues pushing Seattle teachers out of union?


A June 2018 Supreme Court decision ruled that public workers aren’t required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, and it’s resulted in an exodus of hundreds of employees from Seattle’s public schools union.

RELATED: The truth about teacher pay in Washington

In the months since the court’s decision, roughly 600 public school employees have left the Seattle Education Association union. Washington Policy Center’s Liv Finne believes she can pinpoint that reason.

“Teachers and other members of the Seattle Education Association have decided to keep their dues,” she told KTTH’s Jason Rantz.

Those dues run members around $1,000 a year, a number that can be significant when you take into account that the average teacher in Seattle makes between $62,000 and $65,000 a year depending on whether they teach elementary or high school.

In total, that loss of membership has led to a monthly loss of $43,000 for the Seattle Education Association, adding up to $500,000 a year they’re not collecting in dues. To cover the cost, those who haven’t left have shouldered the burden.

“Now what the union is doing is raising the dues for the remaining members,” she said.

It’s not simply about the dues, though, Finne claimed. Rather, it’s also about a meritocratic approach.

“(Teachers) want to be paid based on their knowledge and their commitment to education, not based on seniority standing in a union,” she said.

Is what’s bad for unions bad for us, too?

Not being forced to pay $1,000 a year in dues may sound great from a personal perspective, but research tells us the large-scale effects aren’t great for wealth equality.

A Princeton University study from May 2018 found that “unions have had a significant, equalizing effect on income distribution,” with union workers earning approximately 20 percent more than their non-union counterparts in the same field of work.

Additionally, tracking data all the way back to 1930, the study showed that income inequality was lower in years where more workers were likely to be unionized.

Long story short, its research claimed that unions have historically advocated for increases in minimum wages and decreased executive salaries, along with pushing for better access to health care, and even having an indirect effect on increased salaries from employers who fear their workers might unionize.

“You’re right about the power of the union to demand higher pay and benefits,” Finne allowed. “But I don’t think that’s all teachers care about.”

If the exodus continues, Washington state could lose its status as one of the most unionized states.

RELATED: New Seattle Superintendent wants to close gap in racial equity

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