Should teachers be forced to pay left-wing labor unions in order to teach? Union bosses think so, and they’re asking the Supreme Court to agree.
In legal briefs filed this month in the Rebecca Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case, public employee unions argued the First Amendment shouldn’t stop them from taking mandatory fees from teachers and other government workers.
The National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees implored the Court to stick with the precedent set in its 1977 Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education ruling.
The Abood ruling is the basis for “agency shop” contracts letting NEA, AFSCME and AFT take mandatory fees — a practice Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs believe violates the First Amendment by forcing them to fund political organizations.
Lawyers for NEA, CTA and several other California NEA affiliates argued “the State’s interests as employer outweigh any interference with employees’ First Amendment rights.”
NEA is the largest labor union in America. AFT and AFSCME — both members of the AFL-CIO coalition — are the nation’s third and fourth largest unions. Each stands to lose tens of millions of dollars per year if forced union fees are outlawed in the public sector.
Federal law requires unions to refund nonmembers for political activities; the Friedrichs plaintiffs consider all public union activity political, because it affects government services, government spending and government workers.
Public employee union collective bargaining, the NEA legal brief asserted, “does not resemble the wide-ranging, open, and public debate that the First Amendment traditionally protects.”
“The First Amendment interest against compelled subsidization is certainly not stronger than the interest in affirmative expression,” NEA’s lawyers wrote.
Lawyers for AFL-CIO and AFSCME made a similar argument, asking the Court to rule in favor of mandatory public-sector union fees because “the effect on employees’ First Amendment rights is limited.”
Since employees can speak out against unions in their free time, “the government’s reasonable understanding of the utility of the agency shop is sufficient to justify any impingement upon employees’ First Amendment rights,” AFL-CIO and AFSCME’s lawyers asserted.
AFT president Randi Weingarten and AFT’s legal team said teachers “benefit substantially from union activities,” whether they join their local union or not.
Weingarten — who was paid $497,118 last year — said teachers shouldn’t have “a constitutional right to a free ride” because they would hurt themselves and their students by choosing not to pay unions.
“With reduced funds, unions will have fewer resources to devote to implementing school reform measures, participating in health and safety committees, or other collaborative projects,” Weingarten warned.
During its most recent fiscal year, AFT spent $37 million on explicitly political activities. The union funneled millions to Democratic campaigns, union think tanks and “progressive” activist groups.
Union criticisms of Friedrichs meant for public consumption paint the plaintiffs as pawns of corporate interests. In a news release, AFT said the case “threatens to make it harder for working people to join together and speak out together.”
Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and a former teacher, called the unions’ rhetoric “baloney.”
“The lawsuit is simply about choice,” Sand said in an email to Watchdog. “Twenty-five states now ban forced union dues payments and are doing just fine.”
“Working people will still be allowed to speak out together” if the Court rules in favor of Friedrichs, Sand said. “The case is not about getting rid of unions.”
Gary Beckner, chairman and president of the nonunion Association of American Educators, agreed.
“This lawsuit is all about a teacher’s ultimate freedom of association,” Beckner told Watchdog. “Individual educators should not be compelled to fund a hyper-partisan organization simply for the privilege of having a job in the public schools.”
“The majority of Americans, and the overwhelming majority of AAE members, support the fundamentals of the Friedrichs case and freedom of association,” Beckner said.
NEA, AFT and AFL-CIO all failed to respond to requests for comment.
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