Like so many young, first-year teachers, I was completely overwhelmed by the world of teaching. There were so many moving parts, documents, and aspects to consider when it came to managing a classroom and creating the best learning environment for all my students.
I was just trying to keep my head above water and pray that my supervisor never walked in. So when an older, veteran teacher came in and started talking sternly to me about why I needed to join the teachers’ union, I immediately complied.
I was told I needed the union because it would protect me and fight for a better contract for teachers — and because every teacher in the school was already part of the union and I wouldn’t want to be the lone holdout.
She handed me the form and a pen and told me to sign right then and there. So I joined.
Over the next eight years, I never had any issues with being a dues-paying member of the union. All was quiet, and time just moved along.
Then in June 2021, the red flags started to fly. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) put out a legislative position statement speaking on behalf of its 178,000 members urging opposition to SB 618, a bill that would prohibit Pennsylvania school districts from requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to access buildings or receive services.
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The union’s statement violated my beliefs, and I was offended that PSEA presumed to speak on behalf of its entire membership without first asking anyone’s opinion.
The second red flag was when the National Education Association (NEA) pledged to push Critical Race Theory (CRT) through every public school in America. It also pledged to oppose attempts to ban Critical Race Theory or the 1619 Project from the classroom.
After this, I felt completely helpless. It seemed I had no control over what these organizations were supporting and pushing. Then it hit me: the only thing I can ever control is me — and, in this case, where my money goes and what it funds.
So I made the decision to opt out of the union.
I was then put in contact with the Freedom Foundation’s Pennsylvania team. The Freedom Foundation was able to answer all my questions and ease my concerns regarding opting out of the union, such as the legality of it, benefits and wages being denied, and being discriminated against.
They provided me with professional representation, including an opt-out letter stating that I resigned membership on all levels of the PSEA and that my dues could no longer be deducted from my pay.
I signed the document, and they mailed it to the PSEA. I then notified my HR department of my departure from the union.
The Freedom Foundation served as an indispensable buffer between me and the PSEA, and I was never contacted or bullied about my decision to opt out of the union.
Having the Freedom Foundation’s help to opt out was a simple, free, enlightening, and empowering process that helped reinforce and solidify my decision.
So there I was, out of the teachers’ union but still a special education teacher employed in the public school system. Now what?
I had been following Lilit Vanetsyan, a public school teacher from Virginia, on social media, and her posts went viral multiple times after speaking at school board meetings regarding masks and the evolving downfall of the public school system.
Her social media page, “Teachers for Truth,” provided me with the resources I needed to move forward. I contacted another Pennsylvania teachers’ association called KEYTA (Keystone Teachers Association).
KEYTA is an independent and nonpartisan teachers’ association that has been around since 1993. I reviewed the KEYTA website, reached out, and found that they provide educators with liability insurance and legal advice.
They have many similarities to the union, such as providing member representation, attorney assistance, and insurance benefits, but they differ in that they do not endorse political candidates, have a Political Action Committee (PAC), or contribute to political parties or political organizations.
KEYTA’s objective is to promote professionalism in education and do what is best for students. Its members work on educational issues and shield dues against use for unrelated social and political agendas or other extraneous issues.
The icing on the cake is that their monthly dues are a tiny fraction of what I was paying to the previous union. After joining KEYTA, I felt an immense relief and happiness that I had found something I was proud to be a part of, but also frustration that I had never heard of KEYTA years earlier.
Since finding KEYTA and leaving the PSEA thanks to the Freedom Foundation, I have been motivated and driven to bring this information to other educators so they can also make the most informed decisions for themselves.
Through different social media outlets and word of mouth, I have been able to meet and speak with many teachers and support staff about the common misconceptions surrounding leaving the teachers’ union. What I have found is that most of them feared the backlash they may face from their peers and building union representatives.
They’re unsure whether their job security and position would remain intact if they left and what protection and coverage they might be able to get.
Almost all the educators I’ve spoken with told me they felt alone and were the minority in their schools when it came to how they viewed the union. Being able to connect with like-minded public-school employees and provide them the answers, support, and resources they otherwise would not have received has been extremely rewarding.
The experience has opened my eyes to the growing division that exists among teachers, the lack of divergent views and information on educational issues, and the blatant censorship and removal of materials and information for educators.
If I can help just one first-year teacher who is overwhelmed and unaware, or one unhappy union member who has been on the fence for years, or one educator who is looking for an alternative to the teachers’ union, I will consider that a success.
Karin Majewski is a special education teacher, wife and mother of two from Bucks County, Pa. She runs the Union Choice for PA Educators. @UnionChoiceforPA