Washington Education Watch, July 2018

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Have You Ever Been Called a “Free Rider,” or Are You Called to Become One?

The Oxford Online Dictionary defines a free rider as, “a person who, or organization which, benefits (or seeks to benefit) in some way from the effort of others, without making a similar contribution.”  If you are a teacher who has chosen not to join the teachers’ union, someone may have called you this because they feel you are receiving the benefit of a union collective bargaining agreement (in states that allow bargaining), without paying dues.

In the recent Janus v. AFSCME decision, that strikes down agency fee requirements in the 22 agency fee states, the US Supreme Court devoted over 5 pages to dismissing the “free rider” argument, arguing that the many benefits of becoming the exclusive bargaining agent for all employees, “greatly outweigh any extra burden imposed by the duty of providing fair representation for nonmembers.” The Court made this very clear stating, “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”  However, as you go into the next school year if you claim your new right to not be a union member and not pay any fees to the union, it is possible that union supporters may call you a “free rider,” in an attempt to shame you into joining. 

Christians know that, in a much broader sense, we are already free riders. Our salvation in Christ is a free gift for all eternity. However, we also know that while our salvation is free, it costs us everything—we surrender the very ownership of our lives to Him, and His Spirit leads us to grow in sacrificial love for God and others.

It is this love that we have for others that makes us wince if others feel that we are free riders. For we know that we have a Christian obligation to “pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). And we also know that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9). Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that we do not have any legal obligation to pay union dues or fees, we are given new freedom to do what we believe is best with those funds.   

When we are given freedom and resources, we have an obligation to carefully weigh our decision about what is the best way to spend our money. This is always a very personal decision and the Holy Spirit can lead us to do some very unconventional things. When Martha’s sister Mary used her resources to glorify Jesus by washing his feet with expensive ointment (John 12) she was criticized by Judas who said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Jesus responded, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Mary made a very wise decision—she choose to use her money to glorify God.

So, if you are given some additional discretionary resources, you will have a new decision to make.  There is no one best answer to this question for every Christian. Paying dues might convince some in the union that Christians are good people and supportive of the union—leading them to explore Christianity for themselves. But there are other ways of thinking about this.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • Could refusing to join the union because you feel they support immoral or questionable causes serve to make the union less likely to support issues that are not directly related to negotiating and enforcing the contract? Could showing this kind of “tough love” toward your union ultimately lead to reform and more Christians being willing to join?
  • Is it possible that stating your convictions clearly and lovingly and thereby risking rejection would demonstrate moral courage and possibly testify to a union representative or friend in the union of the power and priority of God in your life?
  • If you refuse to join the union because of your concerns, would donating a portion of what the dues would be to the union to support any positive things they may do be a winsome way to show some support for your colleagues?
  • Would the union support you if you have a conflict with the district over your First Amendment right to freedom of religion? Would they consider supporting political or moral causes that you agree with?
  • Would using what you have spent in the past on agency fees or union dues be more likely to advance the kingdom of God if you donated it to a missionary, a local Christian charity or international Christian relief agency? Or what about investing it right back in your school in a way that honors Christ? For example, some CEAI members take their former union dues and fund scholarships for students at their school or put on events to present awards to graduating students honoring character and virtue, rather than just academics.

This is not a simple question, but if you approach your decision humbly and prayerfully I am confident that the Holy Spirit will guide you to a wise decision—one that will best use your God-given resources to glorify Him.

CEAI is interested in your thoughts.  Members are encouraged to enter comments below.  Personal comments may be addressed to the author at JMitchell@ceai.org.

John Mitchell is the Washington, DC Area Director for the Christian Educators Association.

© 2018 Christian Educators Association International | www.ceai.org | 888.798.1124
Washington Education Watch 7/2018. Used with permission.

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