A California teachers who want to opt
out of supporting the teachers union’s political lobbying is now
without professional liability insurance or a contract vote, even
though those provisions are part of collective bargaining.
“There’s this undercurrent of fear and intimidation. If you’re not in step with
what the union’s doing, if you stand against it, you’re not a part of the club.
You’re bullied. It’s very intimidating,” said Rebecca Friedrichs.
She’s a California teacher who is suing the union, hoping for an exempton from
union financial obligations.
With few exceptions, California law requires union membership of all teachers.
According to the union, about 30 percent of dues fund political causes, such as
Some teachers, like Friedrichs, become agency fee payers — they leave the union
but are required to pay for services such as collective bargaining. They pay the
full dues amount then receive a rebate for the roughly 30 percent.
But they lose most member benefits, Friedrichs said, and collective bargaining
is still political, she’s arguing.
“What troubles me is the union is so involved in politics that they use our
money to put a lot of those government officials into their jobs. Now the union
is bargaining with officials who have been put in their spot by union money, and
they’re union-friendly,” she said. “You have union-friendly officials on the
other side, and taxpayers aren’t represented, and they’re bargaining with
taxpayer money. I think that’s political.”
Plaintiffs are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case and
overturns a 1977 Supreme Court decision allowing states to make union membership
and union dues compulsory for public employees, said attorney Terry Pell,
president of the Center for Individual Rights, which is representing plaintiffs.
The 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, set up the agency fee
Public employees’ First Amendment rights not to be compelled to support a
particular political cause or candidate ought to include the right not to pay
for collective bargaining, he said.
“The union takes positions during collective bargaining that are
inherently political and reasonable people could disagree about,”
Pell said. “It presses for tenure, higher salaries. Many teachers
support that, but some do not, especially in California, where those
(policies) are pushing some localities into bankruptcy. Teachers
could reasonably decide they didn’t want to support a union that
pushed for greater salaries and tenure protections.”
“Any time a union negotiates with a political agency, that’s
inherently political. They’re negotiating over how to spend public
money,” he said. “When they press for more money to go to education,
they’re saying fewer government resources should be going to other
things, like parks, libraries, welfare. Those are political
The union, which did not return calls for comment on the Friedrichs
cas, has argued this would create a “free rider” system, allowing
teachers to receive the benefits of collective bargaining without
Pell said most professional associations, such as the American Bar
Association, successfully represent the interests of a particular
profession without compulsory membership. There’s no necessary
connection between collective bargaining and compelled dues, he
“Through the lens of the First Amendment, (the question is) whether
it’s necessary for the state to override the First Amendment rights
of public employees to make decisions for themselves,” he said.