Lawsuit challenges teachers’ compulsory dues
September 16, 2014 | By John Fensterwald | No Comments
Vergara v. State of California, threatening teacher protection laws in California, has consumed the attention of the California Teachers Association. But another lawsuit working its way through the courts is striking at the core of the CTA’s power: its authority to automatically deduct hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dues from the paychecks of both members and non-members.
A victory by the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al. would revoke automatic deductions for union dues, which could sap the revenues of the CTA and all public employee unions and lead to a sharp decline in membership. It would force the unions to persuade those they represent to voluntarily pay dues. With an annual income of $186 million, the CTA is the state’s biggest donor to political campaigns, according to a report by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
A Washington, D.C., libertarian nonprofit law firm, The Center for Individual Rights, brought the Friedrichs lawsuit on behalf of 10 California teachers and Christian Educators Association International, a religious organization serving public school teachers. The plaintiffs assert that compulsory fees violate their First Amendment right of free speech.
In filing the lawsuit in April 2013, they acknowledged they’d lose in lower courts because their position conflicts with a well-established Supreme Court decision, so they have sought an expedited path to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton cooperated and ruled for the defense without a trial last December. Then in June, the plaintiffs became emboldened to push their appeal forward when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an invitation.
Signals from Supreme Court
Writing for the five conservative Supreme Court justices in Harris v. Quinn, a narrow decision involving Illinois health-care workers, Alito referred to the “questionable foundations” of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That’s the landmark 1977 Supreme Court decision authorizing public employee unions to Lawsuit challenges teachers’ compulsory dues | EdSource:
INTERNAL DISSENTER TO LEAD PLAINTIFF
Rebecca Friedrichs has been a member of the California Teachers Association for 13 of the 27 years that she has taught elementary school in the Savanna School District, a small district in Anaheim. She was her school’s union representative and secretary of the Savanna District Teachers Association. Now, her political and philosophical disagreements with the CTA are so strong that she agreed to become the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking the right to refuse to give any money to the union legally obliged to represent her.
“When unions first started, they did a lot of good things. Many people were abused and I could see good use for unions,” she said in an interview. “But they have become what they used to fight, so focused on their preservation to keep their power that they are not listening to their members.”
A 49-year-old mother of two sons who attended schools in Capistrano Unified, Friedrichs disagrees with the positions of the CTA on a number of issues: the union’s support of gay marriage, its
opposition to school vouchers – to allow tax subsidies for attending private schools – and its strong campaign for Proposition 30, the 2012 ballot measure temporarily raising taxes to restore billions of dollars for schools. She said she opposed higher taxes, even for schools, when many of her neighbors were financially hurting.
Because of her disagreements, she didn’t join the CTA for the first 10 years she taught, then joined to try to change the union’s positions as a dissenter from within for the next 13 years. She bowed out again three years ago. As a non-member, she didn’t have to pay the roughly 35