When Matt Eason first started his teaching career in the late 1990s, he had a decision to make about whether or not he wanted to join the teachers union. He was told the union helped teachers, but he’d also heard stories about union misbehavior from family members, so he decided to investigate for himself.
This wasn’t just a light-hearted decision for Matt–he had become a Christian in college, and that had changed his goals and outlook. He wanted to build his life on his devotion to God, and not just in his private life, but in his daily work and choices.
When Matt looked at how the union spent members’ dues, he discovered that he did not support most of the issues and candidates the union spent members’ dues on. He called his school district in Oxford, Pennsylvania, to explain his concerns, but he was told he would have to talk to the local union representative. The union official wasn’t interested in listening to his questions—he just handed Matt paperwork and told him he needed to sign up.
Matt later discovered he could claim a religious exemption and could stop paying union dues, so he chose that route. More than a decade later, he was told he would have to start paying agency fees, but that he could choose to donate this money to a different organization, so he chose the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Through the years, Matt was asked by other teachers and union officials why he chose not to pay dues. This gave him the opportunity to explain that he couldn’t support the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the National Education Association (NEA), because they would spend his money on political issues that were in opposition to his beliefs. He liked his local, he said, and would support them if he could be sure his money wouldn’t go to the PSEA and the NEA, but there was no way for him to do that.
“Some people gave me a hard time, but that subsided when they got to know me,” he said. “I can have these discussions without arguing, even with local union officials.”
In 2018, after the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, Matt no longer had to pay dues or agency fees in order to keep his job as a teacher.
Now, he wants to make sure other teachers understand that they have a choice when it comes to paying union dues. They won’t miss out on much if they choose to leave, he said. Matt gets insurance through an outside organization, and he doesn’t go to the union’s annual lunch, but that’s about it.
“My goal is to say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to join the union, and this is why,’” he said. “People don’t know they have the choice.”
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