The Ultimate Improvement to Teachers Union’s “Every Member Option” Annual Political Refund: Ask Members First

It’s funny how so many of those Colorado teachers union deadlines fall at inconvenient times. Want to sign up for one of the Colorado education Association’s local affiliates? You can do it any time. Want to opt out of union membership, perhaps to choose a different membership option? Well, finding the exact dates you can opt out depends on which school district you work in.

For so many, though, it comes at the beginning of the school year as classrooms are being decorated, lesson plans developed, routines established, and so much more. But September 15 passes before you can get down to the local union office — say, in Jeffco, Commerce City, Englewood, Longmont, or Canon City — and you have to wait another 350 days to stop the automatic union dues deduction. That’s about what happened to Denver Public Schools teacher Ronda Reinhardt, who finally was able to take advantage of the two-week November opt-out window after waiting nearly a full year.

But what about the teacher who wants to stick with the $750 or more in NEA/CEA dues per year but maybe doesn’t like the union’s sometimes unseemly political spending habits? Getting the $39, or even $63 (in some locations), back from the Every Member Option means submitting the request just before the Christmas er, winter break at the December 15 deadline.

So school district employers automatically funnel the EMO along with all the union dues from a teacher’s paycheck. There’s no separate line item on the pay stub for the employee to see. The bimonthly CEA Journal posts a couple notices a year, but most member teachers I’ve talked to say it gets little read. Even teachers generally accustomed to asking for the refund year after year appreciate the postcard or email message reminders the Independence Institute sends across Colorado.

But otherwise, how effectively do union leaders notify their members about the EMO? A little-known fact is that it depends on which district, or even school, in which you work. Some do a fairly good job, but far from all. Based on the pattern of inquiries I have received over the years, I can say that teachers in Denver and Jeffco are most likely to find the EMO refund — or the fact there are actually two EMO refunds they can request — to be a revelation.

If a new teacher union member heard that some dues money went to politics and wanted to find out more, would she find the correct answer by contacting the local union office? The Independence Institute sought an answer by requesting a couple volunteers to make some phone calls. While a majority of the local union offices provided more-or-less accurate information, we definitely discovered some room for improvement. As I wrote last month on Colorado Peak Politics:

No doubt the CEA and its local affiliates have made some improvements in their efforts to disclose the availability of member political refunds. A good start would be making sure all receptionists are prepared with a fact sheet at their disposal. Or maybe they all should just bookmark their Web browsers to the Independent Teachers website.

While some teachers are glad to fork over the funds for the union’s political agenda, there are still plenty of others oblivious during the holiday bustle. Once December 15 is past, the money is gone. If they want to spend the money on their own political candidates and causes, give to charity, or do a little extra Christmas shopping, well, they’re out of luck — at least until next year.

Improving customer service would only help the handful of teachers who are aware and assertive enough to reach out and learn more. The best improvement the union could make is ask educators each year to opt in to the political program. That would truly give Every Member (an) Option.

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