File-Indiana Teachers Protests

Thousands of Indiana teachers wearing red hold rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, calling for further increasing teacher pay in the biggest such protest in the state amid a wave of educator activism across the country. Teacher unions says about half of Indiana's nearly 300 school districts are closed while their teachers attend Tuesday's rally while legislators gather for 2020 session.

(The Center Square) – The Indiana General Assembly passed a law in the spring clarifying teachers have the right to leave a union at any time during the year, and to stop paying all dues.

The Indiana State Teachers Association went to court this summer to stop it from going into effect, getting a temporary injunction. Also, in August, ISTA began a program to have all dues sent directly to them through payroll deductions, rather than having school corporations deduct dues and remit them to local unions, which then would send most of that amount on to ISTA.

“They found a way to completely get around the law,” says Sharon Row, a retired teacher who now runs Indiana Professional Educators, Inc., an association of non-union teachers.

ISTA’s new program to have dues sent directly to them is called Easy Pay, and ISTA advertises it on its website as a “convenient method to pay association dues, including local dues, through automatic deductions from a checking or savings account, credit care or personal/bank check.”

“By switching all members to Easy Pay, we take away a tactic used by legislators to distract from the real issues facing public education,” the website says.

Row says the effect is the first part of the new law, SB 251, is null and void, even if it survives the court challenge.

S.B. 251, authored by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, required teachers re-enroll in the union every year on a form provided by the attorney general’s office that includes a clear statement in 14-point font that teachers can leave the union at any time during the year and stop paying dues.

Specifically, it says they must be allowed out of the union on the first day of the pay period that follows their notification to the school corporation.

The purpose of the legislation was to bring Indiana into compliance with the Janus decision, a 2018 Supreme Court decision that said that no public sector union dues can be forcibly taken from non-union members as this would violate those members’ rights to free speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Row said she first heard what ISTA was doing last month when she started getting panicked calls from teachers, saying they were being told they had to sign papers for dues to be sent straight to ISTA.

One was from a new teacher in Elkhart.

“For three days her union rep, before school even started, was calling her every day, ‘Have you signed that form? We need to get the form signed. We need that fee. We need to send this in.’ And the day she called me her rep had called her three times already,” says Row.

The problem, the group says, with dues going straight to ISTA is teachers have no easy way of getting out of ISTA, and stopping the deduction from their bank accounts.

“If they can get out of the ISTA contract, they can form their own union, and we’ll help them do it. But they can’t get out of ISTA right now. They can’t find a way to get out,” says Row.

The other problem with what ISTA is doing, she says, is it takes all power away from local unions.

“What ISTA has done is they literally screwed over all their members and all the local associations. So there is no money at the local association anymore except what ISTA gives them,” says Row.

The Indiana State Teachers Association has just under 40,000 members statewide. Teachers pay approximately $1,000 a year to belong, which includes membership in the NEA and also the local union.

ISTA did not return a call seeking comment for this story.