A veteran computer science teacher, Kenneth Hemmler has always wanted to teach in the classroom and coach basketball. He has spent 16 years in the same school district, with 13 years of elementary school experience. Both he and his wife are teachers, but both have run into numerous problems with their state teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Educators Association (PSEA).
They became “especially frustrated” with the PSEA and the National Education Association (NEA) when they realized these unions “constantly spend our money on political activities we disagree with.”
Kenneth was a PSEA member for 17 years and he noted, “I never used any services of the union in that time.” Instead of serving members like him, PSEA’s “lack of effort” frustrated him and many of his colleagues.
“I really didn’t like the way they tried to tell us how to vote,” Kenneth said, “[They] would use scare tactics that we would lose our pensions and that people would be furloughed if we didn’t get out and vote for their sponsored candidates.”
The tipping point was the contention over virtual learning versus in-person classes. The union president protested the local school board’s decision to maintain in-person classes, but Kenneth agreed with the decision to keep schools open. Kenneth informed the president that “her opinion did not reflect everyone and that she should not send a letter on behalf of everyone.”
Instead of listening to teachers like Kenneth, the union president “did it anyway and sent a copy to everyone as if to brag about what a great job she had done.”
As a result of union politicking, Kenneth submitted his opt-out letter to the PSEA. And in response, Kenneth received mail from PSEA filled with the same false claims and scare tactics; they told him that leaving the union meant he would lose employee benefits like his state pension. The union’s response did not deter him, and he felt empowered to tell them, “No, that’s not true,” because he knew his constitutional rights and has the research to back it up.
Kenneth noted his appreciation for AFFT’s research series, “Where Do Your Dues Go?” and how it can dispel union falsehoods that have spread among his fellow teachers.
“About anyone who approaches me about a union issue and I tell them to get out,” Kenneth said, “I wish my wife and I had made the move long ago.”
“I’m discouraged to think about how many teachers don’t know the truth, and who don’t know their rights when it comes to union membership,” Kenneth said. “We do have a constitutional right to resign union membership, refuse to make political contributions that violate the First Amendment, and to work at our jobs free from misinformation, coercion, and harassment.”