fbpx Skip to content

Teacher starts group for Connecticut educators who want to drop their union

Michael Costanza, a sixth-grade teacher at North Stonington Elementary School and former reporter for The Day, never wanted to be part of a union, but for most of his sixteen year teaching career he was required to pay an agency fee to the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, even though he declined to be a dues-paying member.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the political activism of the NEA,” Costanza said of the CEA’s national affiliate. “I’ve been frustrated to see unions work against issues like school choice. I think the unions have it backwards. We know that schools exist to serve our students, they seem to think that students exist to serve the best interest of the unions.”

That all changed in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that requiring public employees to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment violated public sector workers’ freedom of speech rights because it essentially required them to subsidize political speech they may not agree with.

Now, Costanza has started a private Facebook group called Constitution State Educators with the sole purpose of letting teachers know that they can leave their union and not lose their pay or benefits.

“We want to spread the word to as many teachers and other school employees as possible in Connecticut about their Janus rights to choose whether or not to belong to the unions,” Costanza said in an interview. “We want to correct the misconceptions that a lot of teachers have, largely in part to the unions misleading them about their Janus rights.”

Since starting the group on January 11, Constitution State Educators now has 231 members, adding 65 in the last week.

While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 51,000 teachers working in Connecticut, the vast majority of whom are members of either the CEA or the American Federation of Teachers, Costanza believes there is room to grow, particularly as some teachers push back against COVID safety measures and mandates pushed by the unions and state government.

“We’re reaching out to as many teachers as possible who are frustrated with how the unions let us down by not standing up for us against these mandates that are hurting both us and our students’ mental health, and to let them know they have choices,” Costanza said.

Costanza says he began seeing other teachers leave the union and join alternative non-union associations such as the American Association of Educators over the course of the last year and believes it’s related to how teacher unions, both in the state and nationally, have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back is how the unions caved, and in some ways even invited, mandates from Gov. Lamont in regards to vaccines and weekly testing, but, more importantly, the way they caved with the mandates for masking our students in school and just the overall level of fear they have stoked in our schools among our students,” Costanza said.

On January 12, the CEA encouraged its members to wear black in protest, saying that Connecticut schools were not adequately supplied with testing kits and N95 masks and arguing schools should be allowed to shift to remote learning for short periods of time if surging COVID cases cause teacher shortages.

But some teachers – led by Ellington High School history teacher Aaron Hoffman — pushed back by wearing red, arguing that remote learning is harming kids’ mental health and that schools should remain open for learning.

Nationally, the Chicago Teachers Union, an affiliate of the AFT, made headlines in a very public battle with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over returning to classrooms amid a surge in the COVID Omicron variant that resulted in schools being temporarily closed down.

“A lot of teachers around the state don’t want to contribute money to unions that aren’t representing our best interests or the interests of our students,” Costanza said. “We need to stand up for our students and for ourselves.”

Since the Janus decision in 2018, the National Education Association – the national affiliate of the CEA – has lost 92,826 members or 3 percent of their membership, according to federal documents. That figure doesn’t include the 87,764 agency fee payers the union listed in 2017, who ceased to be counted or charged agency fees following the Supreme Court ruling.

But the loss of members and agency fee payers hasn’t affected NEA’s bottom line: the national union took in $203 million more between 2017 and 2021, according to federal documents, a 35 percent increase.

Public-sector unions have countered that teachers and other public employees who leave the union and don’t pay dues are essentially freeloading on the collective bargaining agreements secured by union representatives.

Since unions maintain exclusive representation for employees in a workplace, non-members are still entitled to all the same pay, benefits and, if necessary, union representation for grievance and disciplinary issues.

But Costanza says it’s the unions who are freeloading. “They freeload by definition with their monopoly on bargaining rights and they’re using members’ money to push political agendas that many of their members don’t believe in,” Costanza said.

Costanza says that the Association of American Educators and the Christian Educators Association will be giving back-to-back presentations on what they can offer to Connecticut teachers on the first of February. Both groups are non-union associations. The AAE offers insurance and legal protections for teachers, while the Christian Educators Association represents teachers largely in Christian schools.

Despite having never been a dues-paying union member, Constanza says that he’s always enjoyed a good relationship with his local union, even helping draft language for his local union’s contract.

“The silver lining in all this is that maybe our effort will make the unions work a little bit harder to show that they’re willing to represent all of their members fairly and not just some,” Costanza said. “Maybe this will be good for the unions, maybe it will improve their level of service and they’ll come out stronger from this.”

The CEA and AFT-CT did not respond to request for comment.

**Meghan Portfolio contributed to this article**

Marc E. Fitch

Marc E. Fitch is the author of several books and novels including Shmexperts: How Power Politics and Ideology are Disguised as Science and Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot. Marc was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and his work has appeared in The Federalist, American Thinker, The Skeptical Inquirer, World Net Daily and Real Clear Policy. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University. Marc can be reached at [email protected]

4 Comments

  1. Noreen Kokoruda
    January 25, 2022 @ 2:57 pm

    During the 2018 campaign I was a candidate and met with my local teachers and their CEA representative. The meeting opened with her telling them with great authority that if Bob Stefanowski won the Governorship they would all loose Their pensions and their collective BARGAINing rights would Taken away. SHe CONTINUED to make things up throUgh the whole meeting and NOt one teacher questioned her. I lefT so DISAPPOINTED. This is who represents the CEA

    Reply

  2. John S.
    January 25, 2022 @ 4:30 pm

    AS IS OFTEN THE CASE, MONEY IS A HUGE FACTOR WHEN IT COMES TO UNIONS. I DON’T THINK MANY FOLKS REALIZE THAT AS A NON-PROFIT DUES DEPENDENT ORGANIZATION, THESE UNIONS HAVE TO SPEND MILLIONS PER YEAR (CEA APPROX. $21 MILLION/YEAR).
    FAILURE TO DO SO RESULTS IN GETTING LESS MONEY THE FOLLOWING YEAR – THEREFORE IT IS AN IMPERATIVE TO GET THAT MONEY SPENT. SO IT BEGS THE QUESTION – WHERE DOES ALL THIS MONEY GO? WHEN THE NEW CEA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR (D. WILLIAMS) AND THE FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (C. DONOVAN) WERE HIRED YEARS AGO, THEY DID NOT WANT TO MAKE THAT INFORMATION PUBLIC.

    TEACHERS WHO PAY DUES TO THE LOCAL, STATE AND NATIONAL UNIONS SHOULD BE GIVEN AN ITEMIZED REPORT DETAILING ALL EXPENDITURES FOR EACH PENNY SPENT. HOPEFULLY, THE LABOR-MANAGEMENT REPORTING AND DISCLOSURE ACT REVISION FROM 2020 HAS ADDRESSED THAT AND EXPECTS MORE THAT PLACING CERTAIN EXPENDITURES IN A “MISCELLANEOUS” COLUMN.

    IF UNIONS ARE TRULY TRANSPARENT, THEN IT WILL NOT BE SURPRISING TO SEE MORE TEACHERS TO FOREGO PAYING MEMBERSHIP DUES WHEN THEY LEARN WHERE THEIR MONEY IS ACTUALLY GOING:

    – EXCESS SALARIES
    – DINING AND ALCOHOL ($1+ MILLION IN A YEAR)
    – EXPENSIVE HOTELS
    – GIFT CARDS (THAT ARE NOT ACCOUNTED FOR)

    THERE ARE OTHER EXAMPLES AND YES AS AN ORGANIZATION, THERE ARE NECESSARY COSTS THAT MUST BE COVERED, BUT THERE ARE THOSE WHO HAVE SUSPECTED OR QUESTIONED WHERE ALL THE MONEY GOES, ONLY TO BE SILENCED OR LABELLED AS A PROBLEM.

    UNIONS HAVE THE USUAL HABIT OF COUNTERING ARGUMENTS WITH TYPICAL RHETORIC AS IN THE “FREELOADER” ARGUMENT. I AGREE WITH MICHAEL’S ASSESSMENT THAT THE UNIONS ARE FREELOADING ON THEIR MEMBERS’ DUES AND HAVE NO INCENTIVE OTHER THAN SPEND OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. WOULDN’T WE ALL LOVE TO HAVE THAT LUXURY AND KNOW THAT YOU ARE GUARANTEED AND MUST SPEND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON AN ANNUAL BASIC? THERE IS NO BOTTOM LINE FOR THEM TO WORRY ABOUT, NO STAKEHOLDERS, NOTHING. THIS IS WHY THEY ARE SO DEPENDENT ON KEEPING MEMBERS. ANECDOTALLY, PRIOR TO THE JANUS RULING, THERE WERE MANY TEACHERS WHO WERE NOT AWARE OF THE OPTION TO NOT PAY DUES (I.E. OPT OUT) – YET THE UNIONS INVOKED SOMEWHAT OF A “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL POLICY”. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT – IF A CAR MANUFACTURER KNOWINGLY SOLD YOU A VEHICLE WITH A KNOWN DEFECT, DIDN’T SHARE THAT INFORMATION AND THEN PUT THE ONUS ON THE BUYER FOR NOT BEING AWARE OR ASKING OF THE DEFECT – HOW WOULD THAT TURN OUT?

    DESPITE THAT, THE REVENUES HAVE INCREASED SOLELY BECAUSE MEMBERSHIP DUES HAVE INCREASED. WHILE JANUS DIDN’T KILL THE UNIONS AS WAS PREDICTED AFTER THE JANUS RULING, IT STILL IS NOT PREVENTING THE DECREASE IN MEMBERSHIP YEAR AFTER YEAR. THIS IS HIDDEN INTERNAL STRUGGLE WITHIN THE UNIONS AND CONSTANT ATTEMPTS TO “SELL” MEMBERS ON THE BENEFITS OF MEMBERSHIP IS AN INCREASING STRUGGLE. THIS IS TRUE OF YOUNGER TEACHERS WHO DO NOT ENJOY THE PROSPECT OF BEING IN THE SAME JOB FOR 30 YEARS, FUNDING TENURED TEACHERS (AND UNION STAFF) PENSIONS.

    FINALLY, UNIONS TALK OF SOLIDARITY AND ANOTHER INTERNAL STRUGGLE THEY CONSTANTLY FACE IS THE INFIGHTING, “TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENTS”, MISTREATMENT AND UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES. THESE UNIONS HAVE INTERNAL UNIONS – MANAGEMENT, STAFF, LEADERSHIP, ETC. OFTEN THESE UNIONS LOOK DOWN AT STAFF AND LOWER WAGED EMPLOYEES, WHILE THE LATER LOOK AT MANAGEMENT/LEADERSHIP AS THE “1%”. IT’S A BITTERLY IRONIC MICROCOSM OF “US VS. THEM” OR “GOOD VS EVIL” – YET WHEN IT COMES TO THE EXTERNAL, PUBLIC FACING MESSAGE – THEY ARE UNITED, IN SOLIDARITY AND NOT LIKE THE EVIL CORPORATIONS AND 1%.

    Reply

  3. Gary
    January 25, 2022 @ 7:37 pm

    It’s time the unions be put in their place. They have no business acting like they can run things better then those who do. But they do not step out on there own. They are trying to control construction also. They Have to go.

    Reply

  4. David Schmus
    January 31, 2022 @ 6:12 pm

    Thanks for the article! POINT OF CLARIFICATION: CEAI ACtually represents Christian educators in public schools, whereas the article suggests we serve primarily educators in christian schools. While we have both public and private school educators in our membership, the vast majority are public school educators.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.