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Member Spotlight: Mike Costanza

Mike Costanza is a veteran educator, having taught for over seventeen years in Connecticut. He advocates for educators’ liberty to make the best, most-informed choice when it comes to unions or union alternatives. 

Mike first learned about AFFT in 2021 as teachers began to “speak out about their frustrations with” the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He heard that AFFT offered support to public employees like himself “who felt that their unions no longer represented their best interests.” 

When he joined AFFT, he wanted to help more teachers in Connecticut to “learn about their rights as public employees to opt out of union membership.” AFFT, in his words, is not only “a knowledgeable resource on teachers’ Janus rights,” but also provides “experience and expertise” to help teachers opt out of union membership. Other benefits are reading AFFT’s research that tracks union dues spending and AFFT’s legal support “when unions don’t respect the right of public employees to fair representation.” 

As an AFFT Ambassador, Mike is able to connect with other like-minded educators “who care deeply about” teaching as a profession. He said, “It’s a chance to support others making the same decision we made to leave behind the union party line.” Mike added, “And it’s a chance to show our communities that not every teacher believes in what comes out of the mouths of the ignoble, so-called ‘leaders’ at NEA and AFT.” 

Although he never was a CEA member, he knows many people who are union members, either family members, friends, or colleagues. Some are union officers, but they “respect his choice, and I respect theirs.” Mike noted that for most of his career, his local union “has been collegial” and he once served on a union committee for the local union’s contract sick bank. 

But he pointed out, “Unfortunately, not every local, not every union officer, and certainly not everyone at the state and national level of the union is willing to put aside the NEA’s political agenda to focus on the interests that all teachers, union members or not, have in common.” 

Mike started an online Facebook community called Constitution State Educators in early 2022 “as more and more educators were feeling abandoned by their unions in their response to COVID measures and the politicization of our profession.” The group is an informal group “dedicated to helping teachers, paraprofessionals, and others around Connecticut who have left or are considering leaving their unions.” Mike saw that “a lot of teachers felt trapped and frustrated that their union dues were being used to push politics,” in addition to union resistance to provide “accurate information about their rights as public employees.” 

Mike discovered and was “amazed” by the number of teachers who “were looking for information on leaving their union.”  

Through Constitution State Educators, Mike has been able to meet teachers throughout the state of Connecticut who joined the Facebook community and “hear how happy they are that they made the switch” from their union to a union alternative. 

Also, Mike was able to join a union alternative through AFFT’s scholarship program. He was impressed with the alternative’s approach to supporting teachers like him with positive, timely, and active responses. Mike knows other teachers who also joined union alternatives, and as a result, “have just a little bit more spring in their step” and finally found “a home, a place where they feel valued.” He added that union alternatives like Christian Educators and the Association of American Educators “can protect teachers in all the ways that unions should but for much less than union dues and with the peace of mind that your money isn’t going to political causes that undermine our profession.” 

When asked what he would say to interns or aspiring teachers about the CEA or AFT, Mike said, “I would tell them they have choices.” He said that teachers should “trust themselves enough to make their own best choices” to either join a union or a union alternative because “teachers’ contractual protections are the same whether they are in a union or not.” Mike strongly recommended interns or aspiring teachers to “consider how CEA or AFT will spend their dues money – and it’s a considerable sum, often around $1,000 – and decide if they’re satisfied with that.” He affirmed, “I nor any teacher I know who has left the union has regretted that choice – and it is truly a CHOICE.” 

To the everyday person, Mike suggested that they reflect on the actions of the unions during the COVID pandemic, where “the level of support unions provided to teachers was very different from what some police and fire unions provided.” Also, he pointed out that “union choice is so important” because every union is different, and a person can find out “what styles of union leadership work well and which ones don’t.”  

“As with so many things in life,” Mike said, “it’s better to have choices.” 

Americans for Fair Treatment

Americans for Fair Treatment is a free, membership, non-profit organization designed to help public sector workers exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of coercion from unions.