Monday the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could bring freedom from forced union fees to teachers and other public employees across the country.
In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Rebecca Friedrichs is asking for the right to choose whether to pay a labor union. Because California isn’t a right-to-work state, she has to pay nearly $1,000 per year in union fees in order to teach.
Those mandatory fees, the legal reasoning goes, are permissible because they cover costs CTA, CTA’s local chapter, and the National Education Association incur representing nonmembers. Forced union fees cannot be spent on politics.
But Friedrichs believes all teachers union activities — not just their open campaigning for left-wing causes and candidates — are political. As a result, she argues, making teachers pay unions violates First Amendment protections against compelled political speech.
Public-sector union bargaining over pay, benefits, and work conditions is inherently political because it always involves taxpayer money, public employees, and government services. Despite recognizing this, Supreme Court precedent treats “labor peace” as more important than workers’ free speech rights.
If the Friedrichs case prompts the Court to overturn its 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, millions of public employees will gain the freedom to choose whether to pay a union.
Under the status quo, if you’re a teacher or government employee living in one of 23 states without public-sector right-to-work, you can:
- Choose to join the union, and pay the union
- Choose not to join the union, and pay the union anyway
- Choose not to join or pay the union, and… sorry, the union just had you fired from your job
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently talked about Friedrichs v. CTA with Ms. Friedrichs and two of the other plaintiffs, if you’re interested in learning more about their fight to restore their free speech rights:
Teachers union officials are, as you’d expect, furious at Friedrichs for threatening their flow of mandatory fees. The vitriol they’re lobbing at Friedrichs and her lawyers is as predictable (“Kochs!!!”) as it is dishonest.
A win for Friedrichs wouldn’t end public-sector unions. It wouldn’t restrict in any way the ability of public teachers or other government employees to organize, join, or support a union, despite breathless union warnings otherwise.
Still, union leaders will make every effort to muddy the waters at the Supreme Court.
If you’re bored Monday, try counting the ways NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia (2015 pay: $416,633) and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (2015 pay: $497,118) insist teachers should be forced to pay unions — for their own good.
I’m helping the Mackinac Center cover the Friedrichs case this month. For the latest, visit mackinac.org/friedrichs.
A ruling in Friedrichs v. CTA is expected in June.