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One week window opens for teachers to opt out of union dues

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This week, Minnesota teachers and school staff have their first opportunity to opt out of paying union dues since a major Supreme Court decision that allows them to do so.    Teachers have long been able to opt out of union membership. But for decades, they've had little financial incentive to do so.  

That's because Minnesota teachers and support staff still had to pay "fair share" dues to the union, Education Minnesota. That amounts to about 85 percent of regular dues, and those teachers could no longer vote on contracts. 

But in June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the controversial Janus v. AFSCME case, which stopped public sector unions from gathering those "fair share" dues. 

So teachers who opt-out this week will save roughly $1,000 a year on average, instead of a little over $100.

Education Minnesota has more than 80,000 members. It's unclear how many will choose to leave. 

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said most members know the value of collective bargaining.

"More people are choosing the union than ever before," she said. "They know we can do more together than we ever could apart."  

She said the union has brought teachers more money in salaries than it has collected in dues. 

Meanwhile, the nonprofit conservative lobbying group, Center of the American Experiment, is encouraging teachers to send a message by leaving the union. 

"This isn't a union issue," said center vice president Kim Crockett. "It's a free speech issue."

Crockett said some teachers don't align with the union politically, and don't want to pay for their lobbying efforts. 

To opt out, teachers are required to send a letter to Education Minnesota headquarters before Sunday. 

The union won't know how many people have dropped out until early next week. Even then, Specht says she doesn't plan on releasing the numbers until February when the union has to report membership to the state.