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Friedrichs v. CTA: Case dead, but questions raised about teachers’ rights live on

By   /   July 7, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Photos by Greg Schneider

BACK AGAIN SOMEDAY: Rebecca Friedrichs doesn’t want to pay for collective bargaining. Although the Supreme Court will not rehear her case, the question of compulsory dues is likely to end up back in the courtroom eventually.

Even though the Supreme Court will not rehear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the questions raised by the landmark case are far from fading away.

The case brought by Rebecca Friedrichs, a longtime public school teacher in California, and other teachers, challenged the right of a union to require some financial contribution, often referred to as agency fees, from teachers who are not members.

The CTA argued the fees are necessary for unions to cover the costs of conducting collective bargaining for non-members and are in no way connected to political activities in which the union participates. The plaintiffs contended unions are inherently political and a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on the case. Although the plaintiffs filed a petition to have the case reheard after the appointment of a new justice, the Supreme Court denied the request on the last day of its 2016 term.

‘It may be decades before this exact issue is presented again’

Brian Miller, an attorney at the Center for Individual Rights, which represented the Friedrichs plaintiffs, told Watchdog.org the presence of such a strong case addressing the same concerns would likely take years to make its way to the Supreme Court.

“There are several cases that raise some of the same constitutional claims, along with other more factually complex claims involving state law or the 14th Amendment,” said Miller. “Most are in the district court level and will require several years for discovery and trials. The Friedrichs case was unique in raising a straightforward First Amendment claim.”

Friedrichs is part of a larger dispute about the First Amendment,” Miller explained. “The unions and their supporters contend that the First Amendment only protects thought — it does not protect an individual’s right to decide whether to financially support the expression of thought. Unions say that Rebecca Friedrichs can be forced to pay union dues because she is still free to think the union is wrong. Friedrichs challenges the idea that the First Amendment only protects the freedom to think but does not protect the means of public expression.”

Robert Johnson, attorney for the Institute for Justice, agrees with Miller that it will take years before a case such as Friedrichs surfaces.

“I’m not aware of any cases in the pipeline and think it may be some time before anyone tries to take the issue up again,” said Johnson. “As the court split 4-4, at the very least nobody will take the issue up again until a new justice is appointed and confirmed.

“Depending on who is put on the court, it may be decades before this exact issue is presented again,” Johnson added. “Still, I do think the issue will return eventually. The current doctrine simply is not sustainable. Government should not be able to force individuals to give money to ideas they disagree with, whether that be teachers unions or any other ideological organization. That is a fundamental principle that I think will eventually be vindicated.”

‘Members are well aware of what happens to strike breakers’

Meanwhile, teachers like Joseph Ocol, a math teacher and chess coach at Englewood Elementary School in Chicago, are penalized. After doing his job instead of striking along with the rest of the Chicago Teachers Union on two dates this year, the union kicked out Ocol. The teacher said he felt it was more important to show up for his students than to show up for his union. Ocol has said he fears for his job while union representation insists his employment status is not in danger.

The CTU said in a statement: “Mr. Ocol has been informed of his member privileges and is talking to us through media, which is unfortunate. All members are well aware of what happens to strike breakers and are informed by their own peers of the process for both suspension and reinstatement. CTU is a democratically led member-organization.”

The good news? Ocol’s chess team won a national championship. The bad news? Even when the union boots you, you still owe them a chunk of your salary.

According to Miller, Ocol will still be required under state law to pay 80 percent of annual union dues even as a non-member to pay for CTU’s collective bargaining, which includes expenses related to organizing strikes. That’s the very thing Ocol wanted to avoid.

“Public employee unions increasingly are perceived to be politically partisan in every aspect of their operation, including their collective bargaining efforts,” said Miller. “Public employees are increasingly disenchanted with state laws that force them to subsidize politicized unions. If employees cannot find relief in the courts, they will look for legislative remedies. Either way, the issue of coerced union dues will continue to be a source of controversy.”

Now that the Friedrichs case is a wash Miller and Johnson say it’s only a matter of time before a similar case makes legal headway.

“The Court’s inability to decide Friedrichs gives the unions a temporary license to carry on business as usual — and their unabashed punishment of Joseph Ocol in Chicago shows just how far unions are willing to go to enforce their monopoly on public expression,” said Miller. “Though they expelled Ocol for opting to spend time with students, they continue to extract forced dues from his paycheck to support the union’s political agenda.”

But as long as teachers like Rebecca Friedrichs and Joseph Ocol exist, the questions raised by the Friedrichs case will not die.

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