by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the outcome will determine whether teachers and other public employees can be forced to pay fees to public employee unions.
The case won’t directly affect us here in North Carolina. Fortunately for us, North Carolina law forbids collective bargaining by public employees. However, many states permit collective bargaining by public employees. In those states public employee unions have become politically powerful, and the California Teachers Association is a notable example. It wields enormous power in the Golden State, and it uses its power to promote polices that many citizens, including many teachers, believe are harmful to students. Adding insult to injury, even teachers who oppose the policies promoted by CTA must pay fees to support the CTA’s activities as a condition of employment.
California is able to impose those fees on teachers because of the US Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In that case the Court held that teachers may not be forced to join unions and pay union dues because doing so would violate their Constitutionally protected rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech. However, the Court also held that teachers may be forced to pay union “agency fees” as long as the fees are used for collective bargaining and administration rather than for lobbying.
Rebecca Friedrichs is the leader of a group of California teachers who are asking the Supreme Court to overturn Abood. They argue that, especially in the education context, collective bargaining is inherently political because the issues involved — things like teacher tenure, merit pay, and school choice — are not simply contract details, they are matters of educational policy. On these and similar issues, the petitioning teachers are opposed to the policies being promoted by the union, and they object to being forced to pay for the union’s advocacy of those policies.
In September the John Locke Foundation joined a number of other state public policy research organizations in an amicus brief supporting Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow teachers. We wish them success when they argue their case before the high court next week!