Tuesday, the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs began work on the first bill passed by the Senate this session. S.14 would require union nonmembers to pay a large percentage of regular dues when covered by a bargaining unit.
"People in our society should pay their fair share," said Joel Cook, the executive director of the Vermont NEA.
Cook says about 85 percent of teachers in Vermont are union and pay an average of $500-$600 a year in dues. He says members are subsidizing nonmembers at the negotiating table, where the Vermont NEA wins everyone better wages, benefits and working conditions.
"We unions have a duty to represent everyone in a bargaining unit, without distinguishing between those who join the union and those who decide not to join," Cook said.
Currently, unions may negotiate with employers to secure agency fees from nonmembers. But unlike other industries, Cook says only about 20 percent of school districts agree to that stipulation. Nonunion teachers cannot be billed for political expenses and typically pay about 80-85 percent of full dues when agency fees are in place.
"By not being a member, I pay a very high price," said Brian Rainville, who teaches history and theater at Randolph Union High School.
Rainville says not being in the union costs him a say in negotiations, leaving him powerless over his wage, hours and working conditions. He says he disagrees with the union's politics and seniority-based system.
"They've called this fair share; fairness has nothing to do with it, this is compelled support," Rainville said.
The proposed bill states he can't be fired for failure to pay agency fees, unless the union can win such a clause at the negotiating table.
If the legislation passes the House and receives the governor's signature, Vermont NEA spokespeople say an additional 2,100 individuals would pay some portion of dues, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue.
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