Policy Documents

Professional Protection and Support, Not a Union or a PAC

Deborah D. Thornton –
October 1, 2010


"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical."

 — Thomas Jefferson1



Thomas Jefferson, our third President, was a prolific writer and commentator with strong opinions on many topics. I often wonder what he, and other Founding Fathers, would think of our world today. For example, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) is a union representing those employed by our school systems. The ISEA claims over 34,000 members statewide, not only teachers but also support staff.

2 It not only charges state membership dues, but also requires, as a condition of membership, that dues are paid to the National Education Association (NEA).3 ISEA dues for a full-time, licensed teacher are $368 per year, plus the required membership in the NEA — an additional $162 — plus local union and UniServe dues estimated at an average of $116 more, for a grand total of $646.4 Jefferson would probably not have agreed with this approach.    

In contrast, the Professional Educators of Iowa (PEI), a non-profit education association that provides educator-support services, only charges $198 per year for a professional membership and does not require membership in any other organization. 

5 This is a savings of almost $450 per year, a significant amount to a teacher on a budget.

What does the ISEA provide for the additional $450? It provides an extensive statewide staff of over 70 people, based in a state headquarters and 19 UniServe units. The 47 UniServe staff are "on-call to help with individual contract problems, negotiations, membership development, political action, or training activities."

ISEA also has one of the largest Political Action Committees (PAC) in the state. Though ISEA stresses that its PAC donations are separate from regular dues and that these contributions are voluntary, note that one of the duties of the UniServe staff is to help with political action activities. Presumably they are paid from regular dues. In addition, there are several interesting aspects of the ISEA-PAC Campaign Ethics and Disclosure forms. For example, in the "donations received" category for the December 2009 filing, over $108,000 of donations were reported in a lump sum as, "Unitemized Contributions…Payroll deduction."

6 The July 2009 filing reported an even larger amount, $199,335.7