Lawsuit attacks teachers’ union dues

A California lawsuit against teachers’ unions could have national implications, reports HechingerEd.

Ten non-union teachers and the Christian Educators Association are suing their local, state and national unions, alleging that the organizations are forcing them to pay to support political activities they do not agree with in violation of their first amendment rights.

The plaintiff’s lawyers are attempting to fast-track the case in the California courts by essentially eliminating the discovery phase and then appealing almost immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision in their favor could turn every state in the country into a right-to-work state, where public employees can opt out of joining a union.

Since 2010, three states – Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – have passed laws restricting labor rights.

In 24 states, including California, teachers and other public workers can opt out of unions but must pay “agency fees” to cover the union’s collective bargaining efforts. That eliminates “free riders” who could benefit from the union-negotiated contract without contributing to the cost.

Unions can’t charge non-members for political activity. But what’s political?

In the 2012-2013 school year, for instance, the California Teachers Association reported that a $27,860 “Ethnic Minority Early Identification Development program” and $18,079 “special publications” were related to collective bargaining. Also that year, the union hosted a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Conference to “address issues involving GLBT educators, students and community” and found that nearly 87 percent of its cost – or $65,099 – was eligible to be paid for by agency fees.

. . . “Whatever you think about these programs, they are not related to collective bargaining,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the right-leaning organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Collective bargaining itself is a political activity, the complaint charges. For example, many teachers unions have opposed merit pay in contract negotiations, while individual teachers may support it.

A 2012 opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in Knox vs. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 questioned agency fees. “Because a public sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights,” Alito wrote for the majority.


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  1. I don’t think that any public-sector unions should be allowed. Unions fund politicians and the politicians support union demands. Without the union money and the foot soldiers in every school, no politician can get elected. The taxpayers whose money is spent have no input. The process is corrupt.

    Furthermore, I am adamantly against garnishment of wages for union dues, either public or private. Members should have to write their own checks, just as members of any other employment or professional groups do.

    • Up until not that long ago, on a historical basis, municipal unions were prohibited. Then private sector unions having achieved pretty much everything they could reasonably expect to achieve turned to government workers as the last, great frontier in labor organization.

      Lots of excited predictions were made about the invulnerability of government unions to the self-destruction the private sector unions inflicted upon themselves and for a while it looked like the predictions were correct.

      Unions could bankroll compliant candidates as well as provide them with armies of “volunteers” so there was no way unions weren’t going to turn the entire nation into a 24/7 ATM for union membership.

      It took a while but the last five years have shown that even union power has its limits and the government unions have taken a number of serious hits with more serious hits looking like they’re in the offing.

  2. Once a union has been elected, both public and private school boards are bound to deal exclusively with that union. The elected union must bargain for the collective interests of the members of the bargaining unit. Both the school district and the union representing teachers must bargain in good faith. The duty of parties to bargain in good faith is important in the collective bargaining process, since negotiations between school districts and unions can become intense and heated.