How many of you give money regularly to a charity, a favorite cause or a member organization? Our family supports — with time and financial contributions — many different things, ranging from our church to some local charities and political organizations.
How many of those same organizations have access to your paycheck so they can make automatic withdrawals from your regular wages and send your money to their spending priorities?
Whether it's our tithe to church or the support we offer to ministries and charities, we offer them without the support of a "subscription service" that sets up automatic withholding from our wages. There are very few organizations that use a paycheck deduction method.
But the Tennessee taxpayer-funded school system allows the teachers union to have dues collected from teachers' paychecks automatically. In a 2011 piece, the Education Intelligence Agency, a public research and analysis organization, noted that of the more than $12 million in revenue of Tennessee's teachers union — the TEA — $11.3 million was collected through teachers' dues. If you are a member of the TEA, just like your taxes, your membership dues are automatically withheld from your paycheck.
The single largest benefit touted by the TEA is liability insurance for teachers, yet there is no opt-out provision for those who only want such services without their membership being an affiliate of the National Education Association — the national teachers union.
In the annual NEA Department of Labor Disclosure of 2012-2013, the national teachers union spent $44.2 million from membership dues on "representative activities." In the same report, the NEA spent $44.8 million on "political activities and lobbying." The NEA spent more on campaigns and elections than representing "teachers."
In 2014 Federal Election Commission filings, just under $1 million was sent by the NEA's political action committee to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Where do these vast sums of teachers' dues go in political campaigns? According to the Center for Responsive Politics' site, OpenSecrets.org, the NEA has been the fourth largest donor "of all organizations tracked" since 1989. CRP's sole mission is to track money contributed in political elections. So, a teachers union is the fourth largest contributor of political money in American politics. Already in the current 2015-2016 report, the NEA has contributed $330,686 to Democratic politicians, $2,536,500 to "liberal organizations and causes," $110,884 to Republican politicians and zero to "conservative organizations and causes."
The Tennessee General Assembly has a "paycheck protection" bill sponsored by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire and state Rep. Billy Spivey that ends the use of your tax dollars by a Local Education Agency (LEA) to collect "a professional employee's organization dues" if any portion of those dues is used in political activity.
There is nothing to forbid a separate collection system independent of the LEA-supported system of payroll deduction, which is taxpayer-funded, or to have a member remit dues separately as most contributions and memberships operate. The bill has passed the Senate and needs to be passed in the House.
In Memphis, where teachers voted to leave the TEA in 2015, their paychecks are still having dues withheld automatically. The Memphis Shelby County Education Association disaffiliated from the TEA last year, "citing lack of representation, ineffective legislative representation [and] suspicious expenditures" of their more than 4,200 employees. Each month, about $67,000 is still being withheld from school employees in Memphis despite their abandonment of the Tennessee teachers union.
It's about money. It's about power. It's not about the representation of those on the front lines educating our children.
Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, is owner of Rivers Edge Alliance.