Lawmakers tweak teacher union law in an attempt to skirt likely free speech violation
Indiana lawmakers are continuing an effort to change how teachers pay union dues through paycheck deductions with a new law. It tweaks previous legislation that a federal judge said likely violated the constitution.
Lawmakers passed a measure in 2021 that said before membership dues can be deducted, teachers must sign a statement every year affirming they know they don’t have to join a union. Advocates — including the union critical think tank Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, which originally drafted the bill — claim it's necessary to prevent teachers from being coerced into union membership against their will.
But just as the law was set to take effect last year, a federal judge temporarily blocked it, saying it could be compelled speech.
So, this year, lawmakers went back to the drawing board. They amended the required statement to say “The state of Indiana wishes to make you aware…” rather than “I am aware...”
Shannon Adams is president of the Martinsville Classroom Teachers Association, which is a party in the ongoing lawsuit. She said, to her, it’s still compelled speech.
“I feel like the case stands,” she said. “I think this is a constitutional issue and I think people’s rights are being infringed upon.”
Based on research from the Indiana State Teachers Association, Adams estimates the proposed annual barrier to due deductions would likely cause an immediate 10 percent drop in membership. She said that drop in dues means the union would have to pull back on philanthropic funding for teachers and students going through hard times.
"We're trying to be the community partner that I know we are," she said. "When someone wants to attack the ability to be a community partner, for me, it's going to be very upsetting."
Adams acknowledged she and other teachers didn’t lobby strongly against the language this year. She said that's primarily because there was other legislation surrounding curriculum and parent transparency they felt deserved their full attention instead.
The final decision on the lawsuit surrounding the original legislation is pending.