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Friedrichs case threatening teacher union funds going before SCOTUS

Craig Clough | January 7, 2016

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Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Monday in a case that threatens the financial strength of teacher unions in California and 23 other states.

The Friedrichs’ v. California Teachers Association lawsuit was brought by a group of California teachers seeking a dismissal from the requirement that they pay compulsory union dues.

The case has far-reaching implications not just impact teacher unions but all public employee union in the states that require so-called “agency fees” that fund collective bargaining efforts. Even employees who are not union members must pay these fees, although they are allowed to opt-out of a portion of the fees that go directly toward political activities.

In California, roughly 40 percent of dues to teacher unions goes toward political campaigning and lobbying, according to EdSource.

The plaintiffs will essentially be asking the court to overturn a 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in part by arguing that unions have gone too far in recent years allowing their collective bargaining efforts to become intertwined with political activism, which then violates the plaintiffs rights to free speech by forcing them to fund political actions they are often opposed to.

“In recent years, unions have become what they used to fight. They are powerful, entrenched organizations more interested in self-preservation than on protecting the rights of individual members,” said lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs in a phone call with reporters today.

The Abood ruling set precedent for the agency laws, but Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, which is representing Friedrichs, said  that the key change since 1977 is unions have become more political.

“We think Abood was incorrectly decided from the beginning … but in addition to that, one thing that has changed which has brought the issue into more sort of a clearer focus is that unions have become more and more political, and it is becoming more and more clear that even the things they negotiate for in collective bargaining have a direct connection to political disputes,” Pell said on the call. “It’s just not easily the case that you can separate between the unions overt political activities and the kinds of things the union negotiates for during collective bargaining.”

Teacher unions in California and nationally are fighting the case.

A joint statement issued in June from National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders, and Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said: “The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities—decisions that have stood for more than 35 years—and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.

“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety”

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