Ohio's Senate Bill 5: A union dissenter's perspective

Guest Blogger

Ever wonder what happens to teachers who don't want to join the union? In her emotional testimony to the Ohio House's Commerce and Labor Committee on Senate Bill 5 this morning, teacher Carol Katter of Wapakoneta provided an answer.

Katter takes her faith (she's a Roman Catholic) seriously, and she has always been uncomfortable with the idea of paying dues to the OEA, as it and its parent organization, the NEA, often support pro-choice political candidates. From the moment she walked in the door at Wapakoneta City Schools she felt ?the stigma of being a union dissenter.? At the time, the union-management contract did not stipulate union membership for all teachers. Even so, Katter said she was ?ostracized? for not joining, and that union representatives continuously reminded her that ?we will be watching you [?] very closely.?

In 2005, however, the union re-negotiated its contract with the district, and the result was a provision requiring union membership for all teachers. Katter was disappointed and anticipated losing her job after she refused to fill out paperwork to join the union, but was surprised to learn that, against her will, a local union representative had obtained her Social Security number and birth date from the district's central office and filled out the paperwork for her. She objected to this back door procedure and promptly filed a request with the OEA for an exemption from union dues, based on her religious convictions.

A local council of OEA representatives convened for a hearing on her request. After hearing Katter present her case, one representative laughed slightly and said an exemption would not be granted unless Katter changed her religion. In the history of the union, followers of only two religions, neither of which was Roman Catholicism, had been granted such an exemption, he said. Not surprisingly, the council denied Katter's request.

Katter was prepared to lose her job once again when she was unexpectedly contacted by someone from the National Right to Work Foundation. It was only with the Foundation's help that Katter was finally allowed to re-direct her union dues to a scholarship fund for Wapakoneta students.

At the hearing this morning, Katter expressed surprise that, in a free country, she was far from free to choose against teachers union membership, even when she had strong personal convictions about doing so. One representative on the committee asked whether or not Katter's was an isolated case. Not by a long shot, she replied: Each year she receives many calls from teachers in similar situations who want to opt out of union membership but can't. They have heard about the exemption Katter gained and hope she can provide guidance on how to make her story their story. And although some teachers eventually win such exemptions for themselves, many of them, Katter says, find the pressure of constant bullying from the union too great and decide to coalesce into the ?silent minority? of would-be abstainers.

- Nick Joch, Policy & Research Intern in Fordham's Columbus office

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