In June, with Freedom Foundation assistance, approximately 120 teachers and employees of the Le Roy School District in central Illinois voted overwhelmingly to part ways with the National Education Association (NEA) and instead form an independent, unaffiliated union to represent their interests at the bargaining table.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) officially certified the independent “Association of Le Roy Educators” as the employees’ exclusive bargaining agent on June 23, following a 57-8 vote.
“We’re positively thrilled to be able to have our own independent union,” said Nicole Gaddis, a seventh-grade literacy teacher in Le Roy who spearheaded the effort alongside special education teacher Danielle Cooley, paraprofessional Kim Wohlwend and others.
The structure of most international unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the NEA involves several levels, each with its own budget, staff and agenda — all funded by member dues.
For instance, the dues previously paid by Le Roy educators went to support not only the local union, but a regional “uniserv,” the Illinois Education Association and the NEA international in Washington, D.C.
However, Le Roy educators found that sending most of the dues they paid out of district produced little benefit at the bargaining table or in day-to-day representational matters.
“When it came to bargaining our contract, we were already doing nearly everything on our own,” Gaddis explained. “Yet we were sending most of the dues we collected to the IEA [Illinois Education Association] and the NEA.”
After reaching out to the Freedom Foundation for assistance earlier this year, Le Roy educators quickly gathered enough signatures to trigger a vote and submitted them to the IELRB. Under Illinois law, teachers can only petition to decertify or change unions during an arbitrary 45-day period early in the year in which the current (often multi-year) union contract is set to expire.
Educators sidestepped subsequent attempts by the IEA to derail the proceedings and, in May, the IELRB conducted a mail ballot election.
After prevailing in the election, the new independent union moved quickly to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement with the district.
Though it doesn’t yet collect dues, the Association of Le Roy Educators anticipates it can charge far lower dues than under the NEA without sacrificing local revenue, since so much of the dues previously collected were sent out of the district.
“A lot of us are looking at joining the Association of American Educators to secure professional liability insurance, but even our new union dues and AAE membership combined will be significantly less than what we paid to NEA before,” explained Danielle Cooley. “And the best part is that we’re now completely in control of our own workplace representation.”
Union-represented public employees who want to chart their own course by decertifying their international union affiliate or by replacing it with an independent union should contact the Freedom Foundation for resources and assistance. “We honestly cannot thank the Freedom Foundation enough for its help with all of this,” said Gaddis. “Their knowledge and resources were invaluable and one of the main reasons we were successful. Navigating a process like this can be pretty daunting, but I’d recommend them to anyone interested in following our path.”