Ten California school teachers and an education associate are challenging the state’s law that requires all public employees to join and support a union as a condition of employment.
Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in April of 2013, in which they claim a First Amendment right to withhold financial support from a union whose positions they do not share. The teachers complain that they cannot assert their right through the union because there is no accountability in the relationship between the union, the collective-bargaining agent, and the individuals it is authorized by law to represent. In California, as in other states, public employee unions are major political players who sometimes ignore conflicts of interests among some of their members.
During Teacher Appreciation Week earlier this month, Friedrichs wrote an op-ed at Foxnews.com in which she spelled out the reason why many educators aren’t feeling appreciated today, one that has nothing to do with parents or students.
“Although we’re still inspiring youth,” Friedrichs wrote, “many educators aren’t feeling appreciated today because the unions we’re compelled to hire tend to support policies that are often harmful to our students and lead to low morale among teachers.”
“When unions started at the turn of the last century, their united support was necessary,” said Friedrichs, “but sadly, unions have become what they used to fight–powerful, entrenched organizations more focused on self-preservation and pushing their political agenda than on protecting the rights of individual members.”
Friedrichs said that teachers pay compulsory union dues averaging about $1,000 annually in California. Despite this fact, more teachers lean conservative than liberal in their political philosophy, yet teachers’ unions donate overwhelmingly to Democrat campaigns.
“We can opt out of the ‘non-representational’ political portion of the dues (about 35%), by becoming ‘agency fee-payers,’ but we cannot opt out of the collective bargaining portion of the dues (about 65%),” she said.
In an op-ed in the Orange County Register, Friedrichs wrote:
Americans of all political preferences would rise up against such tyranny if their rights were squelched by corporations, yet teachers unions have been legally trampling the free-speech rights of teachers throughout our nation for decades through forced dues used to fund their one-sided political agendas.
Friedrichs and the other teacher plaintiffs are represented by Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit public interest firm.
Breitbart News spoke with both Friedrichs and Pell about the lawsuit, which is currently at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with briefs scheduled to be submitted in July.
“We’re the first to challenge the constitutionality of agency fees,” noted Friedrichs, a 26-year teaching veteran. “Teachers should have the right to opt out of collective bargaining fees as well as political fees.”
“The way we feel is that individual teachers should be able to decide if they want to fund unions and their activities,” she said. “I feel my rights have been trampled upon. I disagree with a great majority of union positions, but I’m forced to support them.”
“This is also about freedom of association,” Friedrichs continued. “For all other associations, individuals have to want to join in order to become a member.”
“More and more, the unions are out of touch with students and parents,” she explained. “Many positions the unions take are harmful to students and parents, and teachers are helpless to do anything about it.”
She pointed to situations in which the unions take on controversial positions such as tenure, or protect the rights of pedophiles instead of the safety of students.
“We have to pay to work with people who could actually be dangerous or are very ineffective teachers,” she observed.
Friedrichs said she tried to address her concerns as a union board member for three years within her district.
“I tried to say that I’m offended at the way my dues money is used for politics, and asked how this could be stopped,” she recalled. “I would always receive the same response. I would be bullied; they’d call me a bigot, a radical right-winger if I didn’t agree with them.”
Friedrichs said many teachers are afraid to speak out because of fear of the bullying.
Pell, who is representing Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs, said, ultimately, they would like their case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This is a constitutional issue that’s about the First Amendment rights of teachers,” he said. “We asked the district court to rule against us so that we could get to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. After that, it’s possible that we could have our case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in about 18 months.”
The California teachers union is not dismissing the case lightly.
As reported in HechingerEd, other groups have attempted for decades to reduce the power of unions through the judiciary. CTA’s legal director Laura Juran described Friedrichs’ case as “a full-frontal assault.”
Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School professor and an expert on labor law, also observed:
If the U.S. Supreme Court holds that it is unconstitutional to require public employees to contribute to a union’s collective bargaining expenses, even when those employees directly benefit from the collective bargaining agreement, this would be tantamount to sanctioning free riding and would have a profound impact on public sector unionism in the United States.
Pell asserts, however, that the purpose of their case is not to drive unions out of existence, nor is it about collective bargaining.
“People should be free not to be union members, just as people should be free to become union members if they choose,” he said. “The choice should be up to individual teachers, and not in the hands of state legislatures.”