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Teachers to petition Supreme Court in case vs. CTA over dues

Craig Clough | November 19, 2014

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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)

In a case that has implications for millions of public employees in more than two dozen states, a group of California teachers is planning to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against the California Teachers Association (CTA) over union dues.

The case involves a state’s right to require public employees to pay dues to a union, known as “agency shop” laws. California and 25 other states currently require public employees to pay union dues. The teachers, with lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs and co-plaintiff Christian Educators Association International, are arguing that agency shop laws in California violate their freedom of speech.

The plaintiffs were cleared to petition the Supreme Court following a ruling yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found in favor of CTA, based on previous Supreme Court precedent, according to the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing the plaintiffs.

CIR has worked to expedite the proceedings through District Court and the Court of Appeals by asking that they decide the case quickly without trial or oral argument. Essentially, they elected to lose the case in the lower courts and have argued that the only court with the authority to “grant them the relief they request” is the Supreme Court, CIR stated on its website. 

Were the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule in favor of the teachers, it would have major implications for unions in the states that require dues of its public employees.

CIR President Terry Pell explained on the radio show Morning in America how the case could impact public employees around the country.

“This case is about the right of teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union. If we win, we will not just strike down the law in California but compulsory union due laws in other states,” Pell said. “So it would be a nationwide precedent that would make it impossible for any state to require public employees to join their union unless they want to join their union.”

Pell also explained that while teachers in California are not required to join the union, they still have to pay union dues, but can opt out of the one-third that goes toward political action. The other two-thirds goes toward collective bargaining.

“What we’re arguing in the case is those collective bargaining activities are just as political as anything else the union does, and the government can’t compel individuals to support speech by the union or by anybody else,” Pell said .

CTA has argued that compulsory dues are needed to prevent employees from gaining the benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining on their behalf, without paying for them, a term often referred to as “free riding.”

CTA explained why it is fighting the lawsuit after it won the case in District Court in 2013, saying on its website: “It’s always satisfying when the courts side with working people and the rights of their unions to protect and defend them. On a daily basis, CTA works tirelessly to represent all educators – members and non-members alike. Because non-members benefit from this work to ensure they have quality teaching and learning conditions, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled it is only fair that they contribute toward these expenses.”

The case could reach the Supreme Court by spring.

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