Updated April 19, 2016:

On Jan. 11, 2016,  the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association et al., a closely watched California-based lawsuit with major implications for the state’s teachers unions and potentially all public-employee unions. The lawsuit challenged the authority of the CTA and other public-employee unions to collect mandatory fees, a main source of their income and, by extension, their power.  On March 28, 2016 the court issued a split 4-4 ruling on the case.  That left in place the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, providing a win for the CTA.  The split ruling means the appeals court’s decision will not set national precedence, leaving the case unsettled. The Friedrichs plaintiffs could ask for the case to be heard when a new justice is appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

What is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association?

Friedrichs is a lawsuit brought by 10 California teachers and a teachers group, Christian Educators Association International, that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. The plaintiffs want the court to overturn a four-decades-old court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That ruling said states could require all employees represented exclusively by a public-employee union to pay “fair-share” or “agency” fees an equal portion of the bargaining costs related to wages, benefits and working conditions. Even employees who aren’t members must pay these fees, although if the plaintiffs prevail, dues and fees for members and non-members would no longer be mandatory. Dues that union members pay include an additional, voluntary amount that covers the union’s costs of campaigning for candidates who back the union and lobbying for issues that a majority of members view as important.

Who would it affect?

Half of the states, including California, have adopted laws establishing mandatory “fair share” or “agency” fees employees pay to unions. The remaining 25 “right to work” states either prohibit collective bargaining by public workers or ban mandatory dues. Although the case directly involves the CTA, and, though not a defendant, the smaller California Federation of Teachers, a decision could affect all unions representing public workers, depending how narrowly or broadly the Supreme Court rules.

Who is Friedrichs?

Rebecca Friedrichs is the lead plaintiff, an outspoken opponent of her teachers union who agreed to let her name become identified with the case. Friedrichs has taught elementary school for 28 years, mostly in the Savanna School District in Anaheim. You can listen to her discuss the case here, read a Q&A with her here, and read a commentary by her in the Orange County Register here.

Why is Friedrichs such a big deal?

A victory by the teachers who filed the suit could significantly sap the financial strength and undermine the bargaining and political clout of the CTA and other public-employee unions by making all union dues voluntary. Unions would have to persuade employees to voluntarily pay hundreds of dollars to a union that is legally obligated to represent both members and non-members.

About 29,000 teachers – slightly less than 10 percent of the CTA’s members – pay fair-share fees. If many of the remaining 90 percent of teachers stopped paying dues, the loss would jeopardize CTA’s ability to adequately serve its members as well as the tens of millions of dollars the CTA and other powerful unions spend campaigning for union-friendly school board members and legislators. Two years after legislators rescinded Wisconsin’s mandatory fees statute, in 2011, a third of that state’s teachers had stopped paying dues.

How much of dues goes to politicking?

For California teachers, about $600 of their average $1,000 annual dues goes toward their fair-share fees; it is divided among their local union, the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association for their expertise and representation. The remaining money pays for lobbying and campaigning at the local, state and federal levels. Public-employee unions have been a key supporter of the Democratic Party in California and nationwide.

Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Courtesy of Greg Schneider (www.gregschneider.com)

Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Who is underwriting the case?

The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm whose mission is “the defense of individual liberties against the increasingly aggressive and unchecked authority of federal and state governments.” It has pursued lawsuits seeking to ban affirmative action and racial and gender preferences, including California’s Proposition 209.

What are the arguments for overturning mandatory fees?

Friedrichs and the other plaintiffs argue that agency fees violate their First Amendment rights, because bargaining with the state is no different from lobbying; it’s all “inherently political.” They say that the CTA doesn’t represent their interests on bargaining issues covered by fair-share fees. Therefore, the state shouldn’t force them to financially underwrite a union they disagree with. “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial,” states the Center for Individual Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs.

What are the arguments of the defendants, the CTA and the State of California?

They say the court struck the right balance in Abood, in concluding that the state as an employer is well served when there is a stable and orderly system to convey the views of workers. Since unions must represent members and non-members, it’s appropriate to require all who benefit from negotiations to share the costs. The loss of money from “free-riders” – those who benefit without paying – would threaten a union’s ability to effectively represent employees.

Unions also argue that they represent the views of the majority and those who disagree have the ability to make their views known. The plaintiffs “are simply wrong in declaring that it ‘does not make a First Amendment difference’ whether speech is part of lobbying the Legislature to enact a law or of negotiating a contract with the public employer,” the CTA said in a brief to the Supreme Court.

How do Californians view the issue?

Voters defeated an initiative to turn California into a right-to-work state in 1958, the last time they voted directly on the issue. However, like a seven-year itch, individuals and business groups seeking to reduce the political power of unions have unsuccessfully funded “paycheck protection” initiatives – in 1998, 2005 and 2012. They would have banned automatic dues deductions for political purposes, and in the 2012 version, prohibited businesses and unions from making any campaign contributions to candidates. Friedrichs would go further by banning mandatory dues deductions for any purpose.   

Other than overturn Abood, what else might the Court do?

Every fall, California teachers who don’t want to join the union must fill out a form stating that; otherwise, the union automatically deducts the full union dues from their paychecks. Attorneys for the teachers argue the onus should be on the union to ask them to belong, and so, as a fallback position, have asked the court to require that unions ask employees to affirmatively opt in every year to pay agency fees, instead of having to opt out of automatic dues collection.

How did lower courts decide?

They didn’t, really. Lawyers for the plaintiffs acknowledged that their lawsuit hinged on having the Supreme Court reverse its prior Abood decision and so asked lower courts to expedite their rulings so they could quickly appeal to the Supreme Court. The federal district and 9th Circuit Court of Appeal did, without hearing full evidence and oral arguments. California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued the lack of a record showing the teachers were harmed was one reason the Supreme Court should not have taken the case.


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  1. Jim G. 5 months ago5 months ago

    Will this be a case where Rebecca Friedrichs is the first to have her salary frozen to pay more for her health insurance, work longer hours and have more students in her classroom? Unions are here to ensure all get a fair shake. I am a teacher, and I don't want bad teachers, but I do believe that all workers deserve a fair shake. We live in a world where teachers can be removed … Read More

    Will this be a case where Rebecca Friedrichs is the first to have her salary frozen to pay more for her health insurance, work longer hours and have more students in her classroom? Unions are here to ensure all get a fair shake. I am a teacher, and I don’t want bad teachers, but I do believe that all workers deserve a fair shake.

    We live in a world where teachers can be removed if a parent just doesn’t like them. I no longer live in the community where I teach because I was not allowed to have a life separate from my job. When someone pays a portion of my salary they believe they own me.They want their children to be successful without putting in the work.

    I had an administrator come to my room with a light meter and tell me that student learning could not occur due to the lack of light. The lights were on and that fell into the district’s parameters, not mine. Thank goodness a union was there to protect me from an irrational complaint.

  2. Gary Ravani 5 months ago5 months ago

    According to reports the same conservative five that decided to rule that money was speech are poised to rule that collective bargaining for hours, wages and working conditions are "political." Who can argue with that conservative logic (sic)? So the same attacks, and generally the same parties, that undermined private sector unions will now undermine public sector unions and contribute to the further erosion of the middle-class as well as handicapping the best advocates for … Read More

    According to reports the same conservative five that decided to rule that money was speech are poised to rule that collective bargaining for hours, wages and working conditions are “political.” Who can argue with that conservative logic (sic)?

    So the same attacks, and generally the same parties, that undermined private sector unions will now undermine public sector unions and contribute to the further erosion of the middle-class as well as handicapping the best advocates for public schools. Needless to say, the erosion of private sector unions is linked by most economists with the flattening of wage growth in the US economy and a major contributor to a slow recovery from the finical sector created Recession. Yet another victory for the oligarchs.

    Replies

    • Don 5 months ago5 months ago

      Private money, not public money.

  3. Karen 5 months ago5 months ago

    Basic bottom line is fairness: if the teachers receive the benefit of an organization negotiating on their behalf, they need to help pay for it. Freeloaders should not be allowed to have the same benefits as the teachers who pay. I only had to opt out once to keep getting the political rebate back each year. These folks also get the benefit of union legal representation if they run into any difficulties. … Read More

    Basic bottom line is fairness: if the teachers receive the benefit of an organization negotiating on their behalf, they need to help pay for it. Freeloaders should not be allowed to have the same benefits as the teachers who pay. I only had to opt out once to keep getting the political rebate back each year. These folks also get the benefit of union legal representation if they run into any difficulties. I don’t always agree with everything my union does, but I do know they have helped sustain a living wage for teachers. That’s huge in this economy.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      Justice Scalia agreed with you on the fairness issue in an earlier case, so we’ll see if he changes his mind. Oral arguments are scheduled for 10 am EST time tomorrow, Jan. 11.

    • Don 5 months ago5 months ago

      I disagree that the bottom line is “fairness”. I think it is free speech. Freidrichs’ constitutionally protected right is more fundamental than perceived fairness in employee representation.

  4. Dick Cory 7 months ago7 months ago

    Fine let those dissidents succeed fromn the union. Deny them any benefits of negotiations and benefits to their teaching. Let's see...where to start: students per classroom, prep time, curriculum funding, insurance coverage, retirement matching contributions, and not to be forgotten salary improvements. When I taught in a rural , but well-funded 16 teacher school; the faculty was split down the middle on salary increases. Eight teachers needed and sought a salary increase. … Read More

    Fine let those dissidents succeed fromn the union. Deny them any benefits of negotiations and benefits to their teaching. Let’s see…where to start: students per classroom, prep time, curriculum funding, insurance coverage, retirement matching contributions, and not to be forgotten salary improvements.
    When I taught in a rural , but well-funded 16 teacher school; the faculty was split down the middle on salary increases. Eight teachers needed and sought a salary increase. Eight teachers argued that it would put them and their husbands into a higher tax bracket. The board solved the problem by giving the eight teachers a salary increase, and left the “dissidents” at the old level. Don’t you wished you taught in such a district?
    Let them eat cake!

  5. Gary Ravani 7 months ago7 months ago

    Most California teachers are represented by a union in contract issues. Teachers pay a “fair share” in dues covering costs of contract enforcement, an amount determined by an independent auditor. Dollars unions spend on political activities may be recovered by any teacher who submits a request. Friedrichs doesn’t want to pay “fair share.” She also objects to CTA’s support for gay marriage rights and for Prop 30, responsible for California nearly reaching the national … Read More

    Most California teachers are represented by a union in contract issues. Teachers pay a “fair share” in dues covering costs of contract enforcement, an amount determined by an independent auditor. Dollars unions spend on political activities may be recovered by any teacher who submits a request.

    Friedrichs doesn’t want to pay “fair share.” She also objects to CTA’s support for gay marriage rights and for Prop 30, responsible for California nearly reaching the national average in school spending per child for the first time since 1985.

    Friedrichs has support from the Christian Teachers Association. Their website, in “teaching tips” suggests public school teachers question evolutionary science because “its claims are based on misrepresentation of the facts.”

    Legal representation is by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) which supports eliminating the last vestiges of the Voting Rights Act.

    Both groups supporting Friedrichs v. CTA correctly see unions as obstacles to their agendas. This is not about “rights.” It is about crippling unions economically and silencing the collective voices of teachers and other workers.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 7 months ago7 months ago

      I'm a liberal who teaches my kids Darwin For Kids and other science books. However, unions have used their power and money to require any office holder to pass a litmus test, meaning legislators and local school boards rarely disobey the union. Unions have also defended bad teachers automatically, including getting 40k for a man about to be sentenced to 26 years in prison for crimes committed on the job, but more importantly … Read More

      I’m a liberal who teaches my kids Darwin For Kids and other science books. However, unions have used their power and money to require any office holder to pass a litmus test, meaning legislators and local school boards rarely disobey the union. Unions have also defended bad teachers automatically, including getting 40k for a man about to be sentenced to 26 years in prison for crimes committed on the job, but more importantly for thousands of bad teachers. Unions have fought merit pay, evaluations, charter schools. Any idea to change the status quo has been fought by the union.
      The unions had me, in fact I won’t cross a store picket line, but after raising kids and seeing them defend bad teachers, they lost me. Gary, your post is one sided. I could care less about Christian issues, I’m atheist. Unions will still be free to speak out, but they won’t be able to hold every politician to a litmus test. Your influence has harmed children, not helped them.

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