California Teachers Sue Over Mandatory Union Fees

Published March 15, 2017

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) filed Yohn v. California Teachers Association (CTU) on behalf of eight teachers in federal court in February. The plaintiffs allege the mandatory union fees imposed on them on the union’s behalf violate their First Amendment rights.

“The State of California and its public school districts, in cooperation with the California Teachers Association and the other named Defendants, maintain an agency-shop regime that injures public-school teachers (including Plaintiffs) by forcing them to make financial contributions to teachers’ unions as a condition of public employment,” the plaintiffs stated in the lawsuit complaint.

“California’s agency-shop arrangement violates Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights in two distinct ways,” the plaintiffs said. “First, it violates Plaintiffs’ rights of free speech and association by forcing them to contribute to so-called chargeable union expenditures that are germane to collective bargaining, even though those contributions provide economic support to nonchargeable union activities and even though many of the chargeable expenditures and collective-bargaining activities are contrary to Plaintiffs’ political beliefs and personal interests.

“Second, the agency shop arrangement violates Plaintiffs’ rights of free speech and association by forcing them to undergo an opt-out process each year to avoid contributing to political and ideological expenditures that Defendant Unions concede are not germane to collective bargaining,” said the plaintiffs.

Lawsuit Déjà Vu

CIR filed Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a nearly identical suit, in 2016 on behalf of California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs. In March 2016, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4–4 ruling. The lower court’s ruling remained in effect, and public employees have henceforth been compelled to pay union agency shop dues even if they do not belong to the union.

‘Not All Teachers Benefit’

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says the work of unions is not always in the best interest of every teacher.

“Maybe a teacher would rather not have the union negotiate their contract,” Sand said. “Why should they be forced to do so? Not all teachers benefit from collective bargaining, which leads to wage compression, where mediocre teachers are overpaid and great teachers are underpaid. When you buy a car or a gun, the auto club or the NRA doesn’t force you to pay them because they may benefit you. It should be the same with unions.”

Moral Considerations

Friedrichs says teachers are forced to pay for services they don’t want.

“We cannot be forced to join the unions, yet we are forced to pay massive annual fees to them,” Friedrichs said.

Friedrichs says a few years ago, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, opposed a bipartisan federal bill prohibiting convicted sex offenders, murderers, and kidnappers from working in U.S. public schools, which Friedrichs was forced to subsidize through her union dues.

“I don’t believe in rehabilitating dangerous criminals around vulnerable children, teachers, and parents, and neither do any of the teachers I know, but we were all forced to fund this shocking stance,” Friedrichs said. “In short, the unions’ supposed benefits aren’t worth the moral costs.”

‘Bullied, Shunned, and Silenced’

Friedrichs says teachers’ well-being is on the line with this case.

“The union I’ve been forced to fund for almost three decades was voted in when I was a small child, and I was bullied, shunned, and silenced for daring to speak in opposition to any union policies or campaigns,” Friedrichs said. “If the unions prevail, workers will go on being silenced, harassed, and mistreated, and they’ll be forced to pay their oppressors for the abuse.”

Friedrichs says the teachers in this case want to regain their autonomy.

“They just want teachers to be able to decide for themselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union,” Friedrichs said. “When teachers have that freedom, their voices and efforts on behalf of children will finally have the hope of restoration.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Complaint in Yohn v. California Teachers Association, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, February 6, 2017: