Union Options



The National Education Association (NEA) and its state and local affiliates use union funds to engage in lobbying or political activities unrelated to their duties as exclusive bargaining representatives. This is often inconsistent with, and irrelevant to, the stated purpose of these organizations: "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching and to promote the cause of education in the United States" (NEA 2000-2001 Handbook, p. 182). Therefore, people often have questions about their rights to decline membership or to withhold financial support when union activities and lobbying practices conflict with personal, moral, or religious beliefs. This brochure gives a general overview of some of the rights and options you have in those circumstances.


It is important to determine your contractual responsibilities by becoming familiar with your personal contract between your employer and you, as well as the Master Agreement (or Master Contract) between your local union and the Local Board of Education. The Master Agreement should state your obligation, if any, to the union.

If the Master Agreement does not require you to join or financially support the union, you are completely free to refuse to support the union. If the Master Agreement contains an obligation to join or financially support the union, this does not mean that you legally must join. There are options.

Become an Agency Fee Payer

A "fair share fee" is the option of nonmembers to pay only that amount of union fees representing the union's cost of negotiating and administering the collective bargaining agreement. The agency fee payer does not pay the remaining portion of dues that are used for non-bargaining activities, such as political campaigns, lobbying and the like. If you prefer not to subsidize the ideological activities and the political views unrelated to the union's duties as exclusive bargaining representative, you must let the union know this in writing. On the NEA registration form there is a box you can mark to notify the union that you disagree and will pay a fair share. The Association must verify how they spend your money by supplying you with detailed financial information concerning union expenses (members don't get this), which are audited by a certified public accountant independent of the union. All money not representing expenses related to collective bargaining must either be returned to you or not collected in the first place. You can object to the amount of the agency fee and make the union prove its fee claims.

An agency fee payer is still a "member of the bargaining unit" and is entitled to receive the benefits of the Master Agreement. As an agency fee payer, you are paying for and are entitled to all privileges that members enjoy, with the following three exceptions: Only full members can vote for officers, participate in the governance of the Association, receive strike benefits, and receive member only benefits (such as the liability insurance coverage, and car and homeowner insurance options). In some states additional benefits may be denied. After you mark the "fair share payer" box on your registration form, the union must notify you about what you need to do next and when. Teachers within school districts that have a union security provision in the Master Agreement must be notified of the Fair Share option and procedure.

Request a Religious Accommodation

Because the NEA (or sometimes the state or local association) often participates directly in advocating controversial causes, some employees, because of deeply held religious beliefs, may not wish to pay any money (even fair share payment) to the union and may desire that their fair share monies be given instead to a non-profit organization. This option is available under the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against job requirements which contradict sincerely held religious beliefs.

If your religious beliefs bar you from paying any money to the NEA or one or more of its affiliates, you must write a letter to the union which details the nature of your religious beliefs and request an accommodation. A typical accommodation for employees whose religious beliefs bar them from paying any money to the NEA or any of its affiliates is that the union fees be paid to a charity. If the employee does not have religious objections to all of the NEA affiliates, the union fees can be redirected to the unobjectionable affiliate(s). Because this federal statue protects religious (and not political or ideological) objectors, it is very important that the accommodation request and other contacts with the union are clear about the nature of the objection. Any statement that you are a "fair share" objector or that you object to the amount of the agency fee would definitely confuse the union about the nature of the objection.

If the union (or employer) refuses to accommodate your religious beliefs, a charge of religious discrimination must be filed with the nearest office of the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It is a simple matter to file the charge, but the charge should be filed within six months of learning that an accommodation will not be given. In some circumstances a longer period of time to file is available. If the EEOC determines that you fall within the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they will seek to obtain an agreement with the union that will provide relief by having your fair share dues money paid to a non-profit organization. This does not entitle you to stop paying your fair share of money in the meantime. It simply allows you to assert this right and, if a decision is reached in your favor, to have the option to recover these monies and have them directed to a non-profit organization instead of to the union itself.

US EEOC, 1801 L Street NW, Washington DC 20507; 202-663-4900
To communicate with the nearest EEOC Field Office: 1-800-669-4000


Join the Union.

If you choose to join the union, please consider getting involved.

  • Get a copy of your local's Constitution & Bylaws.


  • Serve on a committee, run for office or delegate on any of the three levels - local, state, or national.


  • Vote for officers and union representatives who share your principles and beliefs!


  • Voice your opinion! Write letters to local, state, and national officers and publications.


  • Of course, joining the union subjects you to union discipline.


    National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc.
    8001 Braddock Road
    Springfield, VA 22160
    For legal inquiries: [email protected]

    Note: It is wise for those individuals filing Religious Accommodation to send a draft copy of their objection letter to the Foundation lawyers for review before submitting the letter to union officials.



    Beliefs aren't worth much if we are unwilling to live by them and to stand up for them. If the Association -- in its activities unrelated to collective
    bargaining -- takes positions contrary to your strong beliefs, it's not only your right to disagree, it's your duty. It is one thing to tolerate a wrong we have no lawful control over, but it is a different matter to condone what we have the power to change.

    Silence approves. Voice calls for action in keeping our Association faithful to its purpose. It's easy to understand past controversial decisions the Association made, however, when you consider they met with little opposition. Now is the time to break the silence and to do our part!

    TSC Inc. - National does not advocate any one option -- going fair share, filing Religious Accommodation, being a voice within the union, or opting non-membership - over the others. The choice is up to you. Choose the option you feel will serve you best in letting your voice be heard.

    "It is a sin to remain silent when it is your duty to speak up."
    -Abraham Lincoln