One of the nation’s largest teachers unions claimed to have only one dissenting member in its federal labor records, contradicting the reports from numerous local affiliates.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) disclosed that only one teacher out of more than 1.6 million opted out of paying full dues last year, according to federal labor filings released in September. The union charges full-time members $18.26 per month and collected nearly $160 million in dues money in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
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Federal labor record keeping laws require unions to disclose membership totals, including what are known as agency fee payers—those who pay partial union dues to cover bargaining costs while opting out of supporting the full scope of union operations, such as political advocacy. While a full-time member’s dues money can be used to finance the $37.6 million that AFT spent on lobbying and other political activities in 2015, an agency fee payer’s dues cover representational operation costs, which cost the union $73.8 million.
The number of agency fee payers listed by the national headquarters stands at odds with the membership totals at the local level. For example, AFT Local 4053 represents more than 51,000 members covering upstate New York and is based in the state capital of Albany. Nearly 2,600 of the educators represented in bargaining units were agency fee payers in the as of March 2015, according to its federal labor filings.
The union did not return a request for comment about the discrepancy between local and national reports.
If the records are accurate, 2015 marks an uptick in dissent. AFT’s 2014 labor filings reported zero agency fee payers out of nearly 1.6 million. That also differs from the number of agency fee payers at the local level. The union’s largest affiliate, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, reported that nearly 2,000 teachers and education professionals opted to pay agency fees compared to more than 185,000 who paid full union dues.
Agency fee payers have begun taking aim at coercive union dues. A group of California teachers belonging to a local chapter of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, are suing to overturn state laws that allow school districts to force public sector workers to join unions as a condition of employment. If they are successful, agency fee payers could cut ties with the union and disappear from union filings altogether.
The Supreme Court will hear that case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in its upcoming term.