The Indiana State Teachers Association, while it may be involved in political processes for the sake of education, is not supposed to endorse specific candidates. Union members’ dues are not to be used to endorse candidates that they may or may not support. That’s the job of one committee of elected union members: Indiana Political Action Committee for Education (a.k.a. I-PACE). All money used for endorsements by I-PACE comes from a separate fund of volunteer contributions. I am not on that committee, nor have I ever willingly donated any of my money to that committee. So my question is why, during the 2010 elections, did ISTA ask me to campaign for a certain Democratic candidate?

Why was I asked to fill out a commitment card calling for three hours of my time to “get the job done” by writing letters, working phone banks, participating in door-to-door literature drops, placing yard signs, etc.? I guess there’s nothing wrong with this; it is all volunteer work. But was I-PACE the one providing this commitment card, paying for the paper and ink? It didn’t say anything about I-PACE on the card. On the contrary, ISTA’s logo was all I saw printed on it. And, it said to return the card to my Association Representative—not to the I-PACE committee. Something didn’t seem right about this.

I have to ask myself just what are my dues being used for?  Well, when I look at my handy membership guide, Page 18 shows a pie graph depicting the distribution of dues dollars. According the graph, four percent of these dollars goes to government relations. Government relations? What’s that? Page 10 of the guide says that it is an ISTA department that “develops a pro-active political agenda.” That sounds a little suspicious to me. It sounds like none of my dues dollars are directly being used for particular candidates, but they are being used for a political agenda. Perhaps it is just the negative connotation of “political agenda” that makes me feel uneasy. I just thought this was supposed to be about education, not about a “political agenda.” But that’s only four percent. What is the majority of my dues dollars being used for at the state level? According to the pie graph, 53 percent is being used for UniServ, and according the ISTA website, “The ISTA UniServ program provides professional staff so members can be provided quality Association services.” Okay, that’s fine. But here’s where things get murky for me.

At the beginning of the school year, we had or first association meeting and our UniServ director—the woman whose salary I’m helping to provide—stood in front of the congregation of members and told us that, while ISTA usually doesn’t like to name political candidates for which to vote, this year they were. She then said the name of the Democratic candidate. It was then that I was informed of the commitment card that I would need to fill out to help with her campaign. This is the moment that I was awakened to the true colors of my teachers union. No dues dollars are to be used for political campaigns, but my dues dollars provide this woman’s salary, and she stood up and told me which candidate to vote for! And then asked for my commitment to help get others to vote for her! Is that not political campaigning? From that point on until the election, I continued to get several emails each day listing Democratic candidates by name for whom I was to give my vote.

Now you tell me, am I jumping to conclusions? Is it irrational to feel that my union manipulates its members through the possible misuse of our dues dollars?