- - Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer is winding down, and teachers are readying their lessons for the upcoming school year. But America’s largest labor union — the National Education Association (NEA) — is hatching another plan: to use teachers’ union dues to elect Hillary Clinton.

The NEA boasts 3 million members from all levels of education, which gives them a significant platform and influence. In typical Big Labor fashion, they consistently wield that power to bludgeon their political adversaries in the Republican Party.

In the 2014 election cycle the NEA contributed more than $26 million to left-wing super PACs — more than any other organization. Not a dime went to conservative causes.

In exchange for their early support, Mrs. Clinton says she’ll return the favor by granting the NEA access to the White House and defending against “union-busting governors” and “hostile legislatures.”

In other words, the NEA gets to control Hillary.

If the bulk of NEA members were registered Democrats, they might appreciate this. But according to the NEA’s own research, 55 percent of teachers are “conservative” or “tend to be conservative” — a clear indicator that many members disagree with their union’s political spending and Hillary’s anti-employee freedom positions.

Across all labor unions, this dichotomy between union political support and union member affiliation appears to be a consistent trend.

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which occurs this week, is here to let these disaffected union employees know that they have options. If they work in one of the 26 right-to-work states, they can leave their unions and stop paying associated dues without fear of losing their job. But even if they are in forced unionized states, they can opt out of the portion of their dues that funds political causes.

A new poll by NEFW/Google Consumer Surveys shows just how widespread union disaffection is. It finds that 29 percent of union members would leave their union if they could keep their job and avoid other penalties. That equates to an estimated 4-plus million employees nationwide who want out of their union.

Many union members are already taking these steps. Public records reveal more than 94,000 NEA-affiliated teachers are so-called “agency fee” payers who have opted out of funding NEA’s political spending. But because many unions make the opt-out process exceedingly difficult and limit it to only one week a year, hundreds of thousands of other union members don’t even know that they have option. That’s where NEFW comes in: This week, 83 groups in nearly 40 states will be leading the charge to provide union members with the information, paperwork and timelines necessary to achieve freedom in the workplace.

With union dues sometimes approaching $1,000 annually, Big Labor would be in big trouble if even more members mobilized.

That’s why unions are increasingly fighting back against right-to-work legislation. Legal challenges are ongoing in several states. Unions argue that those who opt out of union membership become “free riders” who benefit from union representation at no cost. That might ring true except that unions have always demanded that nonmembers must still be represented by the union. The classic case of speaking out of both sides of the mouth.

In response to this argument, the NEFW coalition is promoting a policy called “Worker’s Choice,” which would allow employees who leave their union to negotiate their own contracts based on merit without the collective bargaining resources of their union. NEFW polling finds that more than two-thirds of union members support this proposal.

Of course, the best way to bring more rights to union employees would be through federal legislation that would immediately grant basic freedoms to American employees in every state. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, and currently before Congress, would do just this. Its eight provisions would update labor law for a new century and a new economy.

Its provisions guaranteeing secret ballot elections as a condition of unionization as well as periodic recertification elections after substantial workforce turnover, would bring basic democratic freedoms to the workplace that every American employee should enjoy.

The NEA may have control over Hillary Clinton in this year’s election, but through avenues like National Employee Freedom Week and the Employee Rights Act, union members don’t have to be union victims any longer.

• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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