Ten days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees who choose not to join unions no longer have to pay reduced fees to cover collective bargaining. And already, a crusade to persuade teachers to drop union membership has hit Illinois.
The campaign sends teachers tantalizing offers from so-called "union alternatives.” For example, the organization called MyPayMySay touts the Association of American Educators, which offers liability insurance and promises no political activity.
Speaking on behalf of the Illinois Education Association — the state’s largest teachers’ union — Bridget Shanahan says more than 1,000 teachers have received emails from MyPayMySay, and they aren't buying it.
"How could you honestly think a legal team that was out to destroy workers' rights is actually going to stand up for you in the face of adversity in the workplace?" she asks.
MyPayMySay is funded by a conservative think-tank called The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Based in Michigan, the non-profit filed one of the three amicus briefs cited by the high court in its Janus decision. Mackinac is a member of the State Policy Network, a national consortium of conservative think-tanks (Illinois Policy Institute is among them) whose funders include the Koch brothers and the Walton family.
School districts across the state have received Freedom of Information requests seeking teacher records, Shanahan says. Some requests come from a post office box in Austin, Texas, and another comes from Prairie State Wire, the umbrella group comprising more than two dozen publications funded by conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft. Proft’s Liberty Principles political action committee has received major donations from Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"They are looking for our members' personal information,” Shanahan says. “Some of them are asking for the amount that our members pay in dues. They are asking for personal contact information for our members — home address, home email address, phone numbers. They're looking for ways to contact our members."
Illinois isn't alone. Similar efforts to inform teachers of their new freedom to drop union membership have been reported in New York and other states.
Shanahan sees such anti-union efforts as a push to do away with public education.
Conservatives praise the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for free speech, and Rauner has hailed it as a victory for taxpayers and workers.