Leave it to Gov. Chris Christie to reference a classic song from the Eagles to make a point about the cost of not joining the New Jersey Education Association.
Referring to the 1976 hit "Hotel California," the Republican governor told his audience at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California on March 23 that after opting out of the teachers union, individuals must still pay 85 percent of the annual dues every year.
"To get out of the union, you pay 85 percent of $731. Then you're out of the union, but you've got to pay it every year, also required by statute. That’s called a representation fee," Christie said. "The idea is that you’re benefiting from the representation even if you don’t wanna be in the union.
"So, this reminds me, for people of my generation, like the ‘Hotel California,’" the governor continued, before citing the song’s lyrics. "‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.’"
Christie is right that nonmembers of the NJEA must pay representation fees, but he is slightly off on the charges assessed by the teachers union, PolitiFact New Jersey found.
First, let’s explain the state law permitting such fees.
Under the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, nonmembers of public-sector unions could be required to pay as much as 85 percent "of the regular membership dues, fees and assessments." These representation fees are set up through an agreement with the employer or via a petition to the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission.
In New Jersey, most public-sector unions have obtained the right to collect representation fees, said Don Horowitz, counsel to the commission’s appeal board. Unless the union no longer represents the employees, representation fees must be paid every year, Horowitz told us.
The argument behind such fees -- which are implemented throughout the country -- is that nonmembers are still benefiting from the union’s activities, according to Harry Hutchison, a law professor at George Mason University’s School of Law in Virginia.
"The free rider problem is the crux of the argument for requiring nonmembers to pay labor union dues," Hutchison said. The fees are common for both public- and private-sector workers, he said.
Now, we’ll turn to the dues and representation fees paid to the NJEA.
At the Hoover Institution, Christie claimed the teachers union charges "$731 a year per public school employee." But the annual dues amounts charged by the NJEA vary by membership category.
The highest dues is $791 for full-time professional staff, including teachers and administrators. More than 60 percent of the union’s roughly 195,000 members pay the maximum amount, while other members pay lesser amounts, according to NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer.
Wollmer told us 2,041 employees are paying a representation fee in lieu of joining the union. The union conducts an annual audit to determine the expenses chargeable to nonmembers, and the current fee stands at 81.8 percent of NJEA dues, Wollmer said in an e-mail.
So, a full-time teacher who has decided against joining the teachers union must still pay $647 in the current school year to the NJEA.
"The reasoning is that everyone benefits from the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, which includes salaries and benefits among other things," Wollmer said. "The statute spells out what items are ‘chargeable’ – or needed to negotiate, enforce, and adjudicate legal disputes around the contract – and those charges cannot exceed 85% of NJEA dues."
At the Hoover Institution, Christie claimed that, under state law, individuals must pay a representation fee worth 85 percent of the $731 in annual dues if they opt against joining the NJEA.
Christie’s on target about the state statute, which allows public-sector unions to collect a representation fee of up to 85 percent. But the governor’s slightly off on the charges assessed by the teachers union, which collects a maximum dues amount of $791 and a representation fee of 81.8 percent.
Still, Christie’s overall point is solid: not joining the teachers union still costs money. We rate the statement True.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.