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Supreme Court to Hear Worker Choice Case Today




WASHINGTON DC – Today, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could make all union dues—not just the portion spent on politics—voluntary for all government employees. A key argument made by the plaintiffs is that when public employees collectively bargain with the state, they are engaging in an inherently political act—and therefore fees for representation constitute compelled speech speech just as much as the portion of dues that would go to fund political candidates.

“Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is being painted as a battle against unions, but that characterization misses the more fundamental point of the case. While the unions are, indeed, politically powerful and derive much of their power from dues and fees collected from teachers, the unions are just instruments in the collective bargaining process, and it’s the process itself that’s really at issue.

“The plaintiffs are 10 nonunion teachers who argue that they should not be forced to pay so-called ‘agency shop’ fees to the teachers union, as a condition of employment in many states, to help finance collective bargaining that results in a single contract with a school district that covers all teachers. The big rub for them is that the contract is an inherently political document that often contains policies detrimental to individual teachers and students. —Lance Izumi, “Freedom, Not Union, Key to Teacher’s Case,” Orange County Register, January 7, 2016 

The lead-plaintiff, Rebecca Friedrichs, disagreed with the policy choices required by her union’s collective bargaining position. “Rebecca Friedrichs’s school district needed to cut costs in the recession. It could either lay off junior teachers or cut everyone’s pay. Although she has tenure, Mrs. Friedrichs supported the pay cuts. She wanted to keep good new teachers she worked with in the classroom. Her union disagreed and insisted — successfully — on layoffs. Rebecca Friedrichs had to pay her union to take that position. On Monday her lawyers will argue that this was unconstitutionally compelled political speech.

“If Rebecca Friedrichs wins, union dues will become voluntary for all government employees nationwide.”

A win for Friedrichs would help workers who choose to remain in the union, too. “With Friedrichs looming, government unions have begun outreach campaigns to their members. Why didn’t they do that before? Larry Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees admitted to the Post: ‘I think we took things for granted. We stopped communicating with people, because we didn’t feel like we needed to.’ Now unions need to. Their members may soon get a choice about paying dues. That potential freedom is already giving union members better representation.” —James Sherk, “Supreme Court Case May Bring Workplace Freedom to Government Employees,” National Review, January 5

Another plaintiff in the case is Harlan Elrich. “Harlan was a member of his local union for many years, even serving as a union representative. But he noticed that the union never played an important role in the day-to-day life of many teachers. When teachers needed help in the classroom or wanted lessons to improve their skills, they found the union didn’t offer that kind of help. The turning point for Harlan came when he received a union survey asking teachers about political issues in an upcoming election. As he filled out the survey, Harlan realized he came down against the union on nearly every position they took. His union dues, nearly $1,000 every year, were supporting politics he did not agree with.

“Harlan left his union, but under California law he still had to pay agency fees to support union collective bargaining. In collective bargaining, the union claims to speak for all teachers, but Harlan saw that collective bargaining was actually the cause of many problems in the classroom. Teachers in his school district were well-paid compared to many in their community, but the unions still pushed for higher wages. Those higher wages meant some teachers had to be laid off and that class sizes had to increase. And because of the union-backed seniority policies, many bad teachers could bide their time till retirement, while younger but better teachers were the first to be laid off. Recounting one situation in particular, Harlan points out that the ‘Students were relying on this teacher for an education, and he did not deliver. Yet he could do exactly as he pleased because the union had negotiated protections based on seniority.’” —Center for Individual Rights, “Harlan Elrich Explains Why He Is Suing His Union in Friedrichs,” January 4


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