Donald Whitby, a library media specialist at Arbutus Middle School, decided not to join the Baltimore County teachers union when he began teaching in 2001. So he was surprised when a large packet of information from the union arrived in the mail at his home in August, demanding that he begin paying union dues.
Whitby and about 2,000 other teachers in Baltimore County soon discovered that the county had negotiated a new agreement with the teachers union that gives it the right to start charging a fee for the representation its provides nonmembers. Teachers unions point out that nonmembers benefit from being represented in disputes with the school administration as well as from negotiated increases in salary and benefits.
Whitby and a handful of other teachers are protesting the fees and are going into arbitration with the union this school year.
"The main objection I have is not with unions; it is the principle of having to do something that I haven't agreed to do. The chance of making an informed decision is taken away from you," he said.
He is one of a small number of Baltimore County teachers protesting the new requirement, according to the Maryland State Education Association, of which the Teachers Association of Baltimore County is a part. Maryland passed a law this year that mandates that school districts must negotiate with the unions over nonmember representation fees if the union makes it a priority at the negotiating table.
Unions in 10 of the 24 school districts charged representation fees last year for nonmembers. MSEA says that about 80 percent or 90 percent of teachers statewide are members.
Union dues in Baltimore County are $668 a year for members, but nonmembers are expected to pay $453 this year, the estimate of the cost of representation. Of the $453 collected, portions go to TABCO, MSEA and the national union.
About 20 percent of the county's 8,500 teachers weren't members of TABCO last year, but TABCO president Abby Beytin said many nonmembers decided to join to get additional benefits after being notified of the $453 fee. For instance, she said, teachers who are union members will be represented if they are accused of wrongly touching a child, but nonmembers will not be.
Beytin says that the union is required by law to represent nonmembers on items that are covered under the contract.
"They have been getting the services for free for a very long time and so they are upset about this," Beytin said.
Donald Keener, a Kenwood High School math teacher, is also protesting the dues. He wouldn't be upset with the union, he said, if it had gone out to sell itself to nonmembers by promoting the job it does and the benefits it offers. But instead, he feels the union wasn't transparent when it negotiated the fee with the county.
Whitby doesn't think that representation has been worth much, saying that he hasn't gotten enough boost in his salary over the years. Baltimore County teachers make less than their counterparts in surrounding school systems, he said.
He also said he doesn't believe the union has done enough to protect teachers from problems with the implementation of new education initiatives, including a rigorous new curriculum under the common core national standards, new testing and new teacher evaluations.
"I don't think there is enough of a benefit to me to join [the union]," he said, adding that teachers don't have the right to strike. "There is very little negotiating that I see that goes on."