Lawyers representing a group of California teachers challenging the constitutionality of deducting union fees from government teachers’ paychecks have presented their opening arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
If SCOTUS rules in favor of the lead plaintiff, Rebecca Friedrichs, individual teachers would be allowed to decide whether or not to contribute to teachers unions. Currently, many public school teachers are required to contribute funds to a teachers union in order to teach.
The plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is seeking to reverse a 40-year-old SCOTUS ruling, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which denied schoolteachers the right to fully opt out of union membership while employed in a public school system where teachers are unionized.
Feeding the Beast
Lawrence McQuillan, a senior fellow with the Independent Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in California, says any money earned by teachers and redirected to teachers unions will be used in part for political purposes.
“All union activities are inherently political, and workers have a First Amendment right to not pay any dues or fees to a union to fund political activity they don’t support,” McQuillan said. “Clearly, government labor unions have changed the mix of public services offered in California communities through compensation negotiations. Union negotiating activities, therefore, embody political choices that have long-term political implications. It is impossible to separate unions’ negotiating activities from unions’ political activities.”
Devouring ‘Local Budgets’
McQuillan says teachers unions’ quest to benefit themselves at the expense of others has taken its toll on California.
“The primary factor is that government pension costs have devoured local government budgets in California and elsewhere in recent years,” McQuillan said. “When unions successfully lobby for higher government employee pension benefits or negotiate for lower government employee contributions to pension funds, these actions increase the share of government budgets devoted to pension costs. When more money goes to pensions, less money can go to other public services.
Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating professional teachers about union representation, says union leaders use their power to benefit themselves, not teachers or students.
“They are the biggest political player in the state,” Sand said. “They control the state legislature. They consider themselves the fourth branch of [government].”
Collective Bargaining for More Money
Teachers unions effectively use other people’s money to obtain additional funds from friendly lawmakers, Sand says.
“The way things are now, teachers can opt out of the political parts of dues, which are about one-third, but this case is predicated on the idea that all union spending is political,” Sand said. “A union representative sits across the negotiating table from people they have put in office.”
McQuillan says a victory for Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs would be a win for taxpayers and schoolteachers alike.
“A victory will make it more difficult for government employee unions to maintain their financial strength and political clout,” McQuillan said. “Many teachers will opt out immediately from paying any dues. Others will opt out later. Research shows about 20 percent to 35 percent will opt out long-term, but all dues and fees paid in the future would be paid voluntarily.”
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
David Schwarz and S. Adina Stohl of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Brief of Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners in Friedrichs, et al. v. California Teachers Association, et al., Filed with the Supreme Court of the United States, September 2015: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/brief-amicus-curiae-friedman-foundation-educational-choice-inc-support-petitioners/