Guest Commentary

Don’t let ‘paycheck deception’ crush teachers’ ability to educate our students

Teachers and supporters protest over school funding in Oklahoma City on April 10, 2018.
Teachers and supporters protest over school funding in Oklahoma City on April 10, 2018. AP

Throughout the country, teachers are voicing their displeasure with years, even decades, of mistreatment by politicians who have restricted their freedom to have a voice on the job, to negotiate for a good paycheck and to provide for a productive teaching environment for their students.

In West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, where teachers have suffered years of indignity — out of control insurance premiums or stagnant paychecks — we are seeing them take to the streets by the thousands to demand change. These teachers were forced to protest because in many places, they don’t have the freedom to come together and have their voice heard in other ways.

Right now, our politicians in Jefferson City are considering HB 1413, commonly referred to as “paycheck deception.” This term is a reference to the attempt by anti-labor legislators not only to deceive the public about how union dues are collected from paychecks and used, but also to mislead Missourians into believing that unions don’t work in the best interests of all working families. HB 1413 would take away the rights of teachers and other public school employees to come together to negotiate with administrators — putting us in the same position as educators in other states.

Providing children with the education and skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly competitive world is tremendously important and demanding work. At the center of that work, teachers are reliant on our state politicians for adequate budgets to fund our classrooms and school operations, and to provide resources to attract the top possible talent for our children. We are the people best positioned to tell politicians how to fund those priorities.

Like institutions of any other profession, schools must be able to offer decent wages and benefits in order to attract quality candidates. Paycheck deception measures like those currently being debated at the statehouse only make that harder. They seek to silence working families and unions, undermining our ability to speak out for decent pay, benefits and working conditions.

Recent media coverage in West Virginia and Oklahoma highlights the natural consequences of this “race to the bottom” approach to education funding. Experienced teachers in West Virginia qualify for food assistance, while classrooms are literally crumbling in Oklahoma. And under these conditions, they still work hard every day to provide a solid education. But they deserve better.

Meanwhile in Jefferson City, efforts are underway to weaken protections for teachers — as well as for firefighters, police officers, nurses and others — by misrepresenting how unions work. Backers of paycheck deception claim they are protecting public employees from their own unions, when in fact unions represent our best interests when our elected officials will not.

None of us is required to join a union. If we do join, we are given a voice in setting dues, determining how those dues will be spent, and voting on leadership. By making it harder for us to organize and silencing our unions, this bill would silence hardworking teachers and families across the state.

In Missouri, we value our freedom, and working people deserve the same liberties that corporate CEOs have: the right to negotiate a fair return for the hard work we put in so we can provide for our communities and our families, and the right to fight for the best environment for our children.

Politicians in Jefferson City who are threatening to pass paycheck deception to settle old political scores after years of fighting to pass so-called “right to work” are just further taking away the precious freedoms of teachers, nurses and other public workers. We don’t need that here in the Show-Me State.

Andrea Flinders is a teacher in the Kansas City Public Schools district and president of AFT Local 691, the Kansas City Federation of Teachers.