We believe any requirement for public employees to fund labor unions amounts to compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.
IN 25 states, teachers and public employees cannot be fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. Not so in Washington, where public employment is generally conditioned upon the payment dues or fees to a labor union.
A case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, could change that. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of California public school teachers, public employees in all 50 states will be able to choose for themselves whether to pay dues to a labor union.
As teachers and professionals with decades of cumulative experience in Washington’s public schools, we hope the court sides with the plaintiffs.
Many of us have already exercised our limited ability under current law to cease supporting the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) explicitly political activity but are still required to pay about three-quarters of regular dues to support the union’s collective bargaining activity.
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The only problem is that public-sector collective bargaining is political by nature. Consequently, we believe any requirement for public employees to fund labor unions amounts to compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.
Collective bargaining directly affects the size, cost and nature of state and local government. Union contracts help shape the kinds of services families and students receive. These fundamentally political issues are the subject of significant disagreement both inside and outside the teaching profession.
For instance, many of us are troubled about providing ongoing financial support to a union that promotes the disruption of services to our students and families through illegal strikes and walkouts.
Others are disappointed by the WEA’s staunch opposition to reasonable standardized student testing and teacher evaluation.
Still others oppose provisions in union contracts that inappropriately require taxpayers to pay the salaries of union officials. The list goes on.
While not all of us share the same views on these and other issues, we all believe our profession and our union will be better off when each teacher and school employee can decide for themselves whether to financially support the WEA’s agenda.
Our union, however, is trying hard to maintain its ability to take teachers’ dues for granted.
Unions have tried hard to paint Friedrichs as an attempt by “corporate CEOs and the rich” to “manipulate the rules in their favor.” At least in this case, though, the only ones with ulterior motives are unions attempting to protect their workplace representation monopolies, not the 10 teachers who filed the lawsuit.
The National Education Association has also claimed a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor would undermine “the rights of workers to come together, speak up and get ahead.” But nothing would prevent public employees from joining unions and bargaining with their employer as they do now.
Many public-sector unions function just fine in states that allow public employees to choose whether to pay dues. The Alabama Education Association, for instance, boasts an approximately 90 percent membership rate and has been described as a “political powerhouse” despite the fact that Alabama teachers can choose whether to pay dues.
Far from silencing workers’ voices, empowering school employees to make their own decisions about union membership prevents their voices from being involuntarily co-opted by the union and requires the union to be more accountable by proving its value to the people it purports to represent.
We agree with lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs: “Unions are not going to go out of business over this. Unions will still have full monopoly bargaining power. They’ll still be there in the schools. The only difference I see is that workers will have a choice. If teachers see that a union is good, they’ll join.”
The three of us, along with seven other public school teachers and educators who support this Op-Ed, hope 2016 will be the year the Supreme Court recognizes that public employees should not have to surrender their money and voice to an organization that doesn’t share their values.