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Unions do their business on taxpayers' dime

It's the old "fair share" argument, but this time it holds even less water than usual.

The Maryland State Education Association, the union that bargains on behalf of K-12 teachers throughout Maryland, wants to force all teachers — members or not — to pay union dues. The union claims educators owe their "fair share" because it must represent non-union members in collective bargaining and grievances.

At the moment, 10 of Maryland's 24 school districts already require non-union teachers to pay union dues. House Bill 667 would expand the provision to cover all public school employees in the state.

Currently, the bill, which forces teachers to pay union dues as a condition of employment, awaits only the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat with designs on the 2016 presidential race. If enacted, the legislation would require school districts to negotiate with the MSEA to set a compulsory fee to "cover" non-union members' representation costs.

The MSEA now represents 80 percent of all Maryland school employees, or about 70,000 workers. According to the Maryland Reporter, fees for non-union members average $400 to $500 per teacher. That's an additional $7 million to $8.75 million for the MSEA if this succeeds.

Of course, MSEA representative Adam Mendelson says this is not about money but about "ending the patchwork approach and creating equity among all educators."

But what if teachers don't want this type of "equity"? What if they don't want to join a union? What if they want to negotiate their own contract? Why shouldn't they be allowed to do so?

Moreover, Maryland and most other states already bill taxpayers for representational services provided by government-employee unions to nonmembers. The practice is known as union release time or "official time," and it allows government employees to perform union duties during their workday.

Most Marylanders have no idea how many millions of dollars of their money already go to pay workers to perform union duties. Through the state's Public Information Act, the Competitive Enterprise Institute obtained union release-time records for nine of the 10 school districts that already require forced union dues. Here are the number of days taken for official time in 2011-2012:

•Allegany County: 81.5 days

•Anne Arundel County: 209 days

•Baltimore City: 84 days

•Baltimore County: 60 days

•Calvert County: 120 days

•Charles County: 31.8 days

•Garrett County: 17.5 days

•Howard County: 48 days

•Prince George's County: 322 days

In Prince George's, where schools fall so far short of the mark that lawmakers voted to turn over control of the system to the county executive, one union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was allotted 3,068.5 hours of release time — at a cost to the district of nearly $90,000. (AFSCME represents bus drivers and nurses for Prince George's County Public Schools.)

In total, the nine districts awarded 973.8 days of union release time, which is equal to nearly 5.5 full school years taken up each year for performance of union duties.

If Governor O'Malley truly wanted to put students first, if he truly valued taxpayers more than unions, he would veto this legislation and force unions to at least enact this system on a county-by-county basis.

But this is Maryland, so don't count on it.

Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. His email is tkovacs@cei.org. Alex Habighorst contributed to this article.

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