California Teacher Sues to Leave Union

Published November 6, 2014

A California teacher who wants to opt out of financially supporting the teachers union’s political lobbying is now without professional liability insurance or a contract vote, even though those provisions are part of collective bargaining.

“There’s this undercurrent of fear and intimidation. If you’re not in step with what the union’s doing, if you stand against it, you’re not a part of the club. You’re bullied. It’s very intimidating,” said Rebecca Friedrichs.

In response, the teacher is suing the union, arguing for an exemption from union financial obligations.

With few exceptions, California law requires all teachers accept union membership. According to the union, approximately 30 percent of dues fund political causes, such as lobbying.

Most Member Benefits Lost

Some teachers, such as Friedrichs, become agency fee payers—they leave the union but are required to pay for services such as collective bargaining. They pay the full dues amount and then receive a rebate for the roughly 30 percent that goes to political lobbying.

But they lose most member benefits, Friedrichs said, and collective bargaining is still political, she’s arguing.

“What troubles me is the union is so involved in politics that they use our money to put a lot of those government officials into their jobs. Now the union is bargaining with officials who have been put in their spot by union money, and they’re union-friendly,” she said. “You have union-friendly officials on the other side, and taxpayers aren’t represented, and they’re bargaining with taxpayer money. I think that’s political.”

The plaintiffs are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear the case and overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision allowing states to make union membership and union dues compulsory for public employees, said attorney Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs. A 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, set up the agency fee system.

Public employees’ First Amendment rights not to be compelled to support a particular political cause or candidate ought to include the right not to pay for collective bargaining, he said.

“The union takes positions during collective bargaining that are inherently political and reasonable people could disagree about,” Pell said. “It presses for tenure, higher salaries. Many teachers support that, but some do not, especially in California, where those [policies] are pushing some localities into bankruptcy. Teachers could reasonably decide they didn’t want to support a union that pushed for greater salaries and tenure protections.”

“Any time a union negotiates with a political agency, that’s inherently political. They’re negotiating over how to spend public money,” he said, adding that other associations operate without compulsory dues. “When they press for more money to go to education, they’re saying fewer government resources should be going to other things, like parks, libraries, welfare. Those are political decisions.”

Mary C. Tillotson ([email protected]) is a reporter for, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Reprinted with permission.

Image by Reputation Management.