WaPo: The teachers unions may be horrible, but let's not touch their money

As we’ve discussed a few times in the past, today the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association and it’s a case which could fundamentally transform the structure of union politicking in America. At the heart of it is the First Amendment question of whether or not the massively powerful teachers unions can force their members to pay dues which support the political agenda of the unions and the candidates they prop up even when they don’t agree with them. The editorial board of the Washington Post uses their pulpit on the day of these arguments to work the refs a bit and argue in favor of the unions.

In a rather shocking admission, the editors begin with a tip of the hat to the many problems inherent in these entirely political organizations.

The unions have helped persuade society to value the vital role teachers play. But they also have become an often-reactionary force, opposing reforms that are especially important to poor and minority children. Public education — and many teachers — have been ill served by seniority rules that force administrators to lay off promising teachers instead of ineffective tenured ones. Students suffer from workplace rules that make it nearly impossible to fire a certifiably bad teacher or experiment with new types of schooling. Taxpayers have to bear the costs of teacher pensions that may be excessive, sometimes at the expense of other community needs.

It’s a bit understated and leaves out a host of other sins, but let’s give credit where credit is due. They managed to at least acknowledge some of the many problems with the teachers unions across the country. But even after giving a nod to the issue which actually needs to be managed, the board goes on to say that this is no reason to stop them from seizing the pay of their teachers and using it as they please.

But as much as we agree about the harm that’s been done to public education and, in particular, to children at risk, we don’t think the answer is for the Supreme Court to give relief by overturning settled law. Unions have contributed positively in many places; their policies can be democratically influenced by their members; and their proper role should be decided politically, not in a Supreme Court decision that would inevitably be seen as favoring one party over the other, since unions have been the traditional allies of Democrats.

So let’s make sure we’re understanding the core of their argument here. They know – and acknowledge – that the teachers unions are, by definition, hugely powerful and overtly political organizations which favor one party (the Democrats) over the other, but the court shouldn’t step in here because it would make the decision appear to favor one party over the other?

The mind… it doth boggle.

As I said above, this is a free speech question at the heart of it all, but it really goes much further than that. If the teachers unions were any other sort of entity, such as a manufacturing firm, the government would have long since stepped in to to break them up under trust busting laws. They control the public school system entirely and any young person who wants to go into the field of teaching is under their thumb. It may be impossible for parents, local government or even law enforcement to fire even the worst offending teachers, but by God the unions can certainly do it if they are insufficiently pro-union before they achieve tenure.

Also, the argument which immediately crops up in cases such as this among union apologists is that “dues money can’t be used for politicking.” That’s such an obvious load of crappola that it’s not worth discussing, considering how much cash they flush into Democrat coffers for elections from the Presidency down to local school boards. And it’s yet another example of the tricks that can be played when you realize that money is fungible. It’s much the same as Planned Parenthood saying no government money goes to abortions. When you give them money which “can’t be used” for one thing, they simply spend it elsewhere for purposes they would have had to spend money on anyway and then shift those resources toward the desired goal.

This is a poor effort on the part of the WaPo editorial board. I don’t know if Ms. Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs will carry the day at SCOTUS, but they clearly should. If the Washington Post wants the unions to be more responsive to the will of their members without the government stepping in, allowing all the members to vote with their wallets without fear of losing their jobs might be a very good first step.


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