By: Rebecca Friedrichs – nydailynews.com – January 8, 2016
When you’re an elementary school teacher like me, you happily tackle a number of unpleasant job requirements: cleaning up from finger-painting, wiping runny noses and removing the occasional piece of gum from a student’s hair. But there’s one requirement I’m not happy about: paying dues — about $1,000 a year for full-time teachers — to a union I don’t support.
I’m not alone. In 23 states all public employees are required by state law to fund the issue agenda of their unions through their mandatory dues payments even if they aren’t union members.
That’s why nine California teachers and I are suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Monday. We are asking the court to allow public sector employees — including teachers, police officers and firefighters — to opt out of paying dues to unions when we don’t want to be members.
I have been teaching for 28 years. During much of that time, I was a member of the union. But I gradually realized that my union and I don’t agree about what is best for our schools and for our children.
One incident was particularly crystallizing. A few years ago, I was serving as a union board member when the district determined that it had to lay off several newer teachers. I knew these individuals well. I had been a personal mentor to three; another had been a student-teacher of mine.
All were making a big difference in our school — so I started talking to other teachers and proposed that we try to save as many jobs as possible by taking a 2% to 3% pay cut. Many teachers agreed and wanted to support these outstanding new teachers.
The union leadership refused to even consider the idea. Despite my opposition to the union’s approach, I was forced to support their agenda with my dues, and our district had fewer good teachers as a result.
These are the types of political decisions that unions make on an everyday basis. Their policies promoting teacher tenure, “last-in first out” hiring policies and protections that make it almost impossible to fire incompetent teachers are just a few of the controversial positions unions pursue through collective bargaining.
But even the pension, pay and benefits packages pushed by unions have political implications — because every dollar spent on increased public sector compensation is one not spent on libraries, parks or roads.
Citing the First Amendment, the court has already ruled that unionized employees can opt out of paying the portion of their dues that funds overtly political activity — like contributions to candidates and PACs.
We are now asking the court to bring those rulings to their logical conclusion and exempt non-members from paying any union fees because, in reality, all union spending is political. Compelling dues to support a union agenda at the bargaining table has the same First Amendment implications as compelling fees that support a patently ideological agenda.
Despite what you may have heard, this case is not about ending unions. Fears that our victory will cripple organized labor are misguided. As the experience of right-to-work states show, when unionized employees have the option to stop paying union dues, relatively few do so. In Michigan, only 20% of unionized employees stopped paying dues after they were given an option in 2014. In Indiana and Oklahoma, unions actually recruited more members after workers weren’t forced to join.
Maybe that’s because unions became more responsive to their members’ wishes. If that’s what happens in California, New York and the 21 other states that would be impacted by this decision, I can live with that. Because I will know that every employee is actively choosing to join.
Some union leaders may not agree with my beliefs and principles, and that’s their right. In 2016, I hope the court will free me from my obligation to financially support theirs.
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