Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al.
From Center for Individual Rights, January 4, 2016
HARLAN ELRICH EXPLAINS WHY HE IS SUING HIS UNION IN FRIEDRICHS
The nine teachers who are suing their union in Friedrichs v. CTA are doing so because they believe that many union stances taken in collective bargaining are bad for public schoolteachers and bad for the children they teach. They are asking the Court to rule that as individuals they have a right to choose whether or not they join a union. As it stands, California and twenty-two other states require them to pay agency fees to support union collective bargaining. The unions claim that these agency fees are necessary because in collective bargaining the union speaks on behalf of all teachers. This week in the Wall Street Journal, Harlan Elrich, one of the nine plaintiffs in Friedrichs, explains why that is not the case.
Harlan has been a school teacher for thirty years, with most of that time spent in California public schools. Both of his parents were educators, and he is related to eight more. However, growing up he never thought he would choose teaching as a career. It all started when he began tutoring part-time in college and realized he enjoyed teaching. Ever since then, as he explains, “Sunday nights are joyous because I know I’ll be going to work in my classroom, with my students, on Monday morning.”
Harlan was a member of his local union for many years, even serving as a union representative. But he noticed that the union never played an important role in the day-to-day life of many teachers. When teachers needed help in the classroom or wanted lessons to improve their skills, they found the union didn’t offer that kind of help. The turning point for Harlan came when he received a union survey asking teachers about political issues in an upcoming election. As he filled out the survey, Harlan realized he came down against the union on nearly every position they took. His union dues, nearly $1,000 every year, were supporting politics he did not agree with.
Harlan left his union, but under California law he still had to pay agency fees to support union collective bargaining. In collective bargaining, the union claims to speak for all teachers, but Harlan saw that collective bargaining was actually the cause of many problems in the classroom. Teachers in his school district were well-paid compared to many in their community, but the unions still pushed for higher wages. Those higher wages meant some teachers had to be laid off and that class sizes had to increase. And because of the union-backed seniority policies, many bad teachers could bide their time till retirement, while younger but better teachers were the first to be laid off. Recounting one situation in particular, Harlan points out that the “Students were relying on this teacher for an education, and he did not deliver. Yet he could do exactly as he pleased because the union had negotiated protections based on seniority.”
Friedrichs v. CTA is about giving teachers like Harlan the right to choose which policies and organizations they want to support. The union cannot claim to speak for everyone. As Harlan put it, “That the union would presume to push, allegedly on my behalf, for higher salaries at the expense of smaller class sizes and avoiding teacher layoffs is preposterous… I’m not against the union; I’m against the state forcing me to pay union fees against my will”
Read Harlan’s full op-ed here.
CIR is representing ten California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International in a landmark effort to re-establish the right of individual teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and support a union. The suit claims state “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, violate well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association. While many teachers support the union, others do not and the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees.
Collective Bargaining is Inherently political
Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. Requiring teachers to pay these “agency fees” assumes that collective bargaining is non-political. But bargaining with local governments is inherently political. Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.
Political Opt-Out is Burdensome
To opt out of the thirty percent of their dues that even the union concedes is used for overtly political activities, teachers must must file for a refund each year according to a precise procedure that effectively discourages its use. As a result, many teachers contribute hundreds of dollars in dues each year to support political positions in a variety of areas having nothing to do with education and with which many of them disagree.
For example, the CTA spent over $211 million in political expenditures from 2000 through 2009. CTA’s largest single expenditure (over $26 million) was made to successfully oppose Proposition 38 on the November, 2000 ballot, which would have enacted a school-voucher system in California (and thereby increased the potential employment pool for teachers). CTA also spent over $50 million to oppose three ballot initiatives in 2005, including Proposition 74, which sought to make changes in the probationary period for California school teachers; Proposition 75, which sought to prohibit the use of public employee agency fees for political contributions without individual employees’ prior consent; and Proposition 76, concerning state spending and minimum school-funding requirements.
Case Speeds to Supreme Court
On June 30th, the Supreme Court granted CIR’s petition asking it to review the case. To date, over 20 amicus briefs have been filed in support of CIR’s efforts at the Supreme Court. The case likely will be heard in the fall of 2015, with a decision expected by June, 2016.
The speed with which the case moved through the lower courts reflected a deliberate litigation strategy. From the beginning, CIR argued that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent. As a result, we asked the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide against our clients on the basis of the pleadings (without trial or oral argument) so as to send the case on to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible. The Supreme Court is the only forum that can vindicate the First Amendment rights of our clients and other teachers.
Case Status: Case pending before Supreme Court. Oral arguments scheduled for January 11, 2016.
CM: Friedrichs v. The California Teachers Association – Live Video Google Hangout