Forcing Public School Teachers to Pay Union Dues Violates First Amendment Rights
Los Angeles, California, April 30, 2013–The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International, challenging the constitutionality of California’s “agency shop” law, which violates the First Amendment by forcing public school teachers to pay annual fees to support powerful teachers’ unions extensively involved in political activity. The suit was filed against the lead defendants, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as ten affiliated local teachers’ unions, and local school officials.
As a condition of public employment, the State of California and its public school districts, in cooperation with the CTA, requires every public school teacher, including non-union members, to pay several hundred dollars in fees each year for “chargeable” expenses that are related to the teacher unions’ collective-bargaining efforts. Even for “non-chargeable” union expenses related to lobbying and political activities outside of the collective-bargaining process, non-union teachers who do not wish to contribute must go through an annual “opt out” process that is often intimidating and time consuming. This so-called “agency shop” arrangement violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and free association by imposing compelled subsidies of political activity while serving no “compelling state interest” and failing to be “narrowly tailored” to any government interest, according to the complaint.
“Forcing educators to financially support causes that run contrary to their political and policy beliefs violates their First Amendment rights to free expression and association and cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny,” said Michael A. Carvin, partner with Jones Day and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The Supreme Court questioned the continued constitutionality of ‘agency shop’ laws last year in the Knox decision.”
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Knox v. Employees Intl. Union, 132 S.Ct.2277,2285 (2012), that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in California violated the First Amendment rights of its non-union members by forcing them to pay a 25 percent increase in union dues without their consent to help fight ballot initiatives in the State.
Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito warned:
“Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights.” Knox v. Serv. Emps.Int’l Union, Local 1000, 132 S. Ct. 2277, 2289 (2012).
“Individual teachers have a constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to join a union and financially support its efforts,” said Terry Pell, President of the Center for Individual Rights. “The government may not compel teachers to provide financial support to policies with which they fundamentally disagree.”
What makes the California “agency shop” law particularly egregious for public school teachers is that the subjects of collective bargaining—ranging from teacher pay to class size to methods of teacher evaluation—inherently involve controversial and important political and ideological issues. Thus, non-union teachers who disagree with the unions on issues of fiscal prudence and educational policy are nonetheless forced to pay compulsory fees that help fund the unions’ political agenda, as pursued through the collective-bargaining process and elsewhere.
Unions also use their power to extract compulsory fees as a convenient method of forcing teachers to pay for activities that have little to do with collective bargaining. For example, the CTA considers the publication and dissemination of The California Educator, its internal and highly political magazine, to be a mostly “chargeable” collective-bargaining expense. The CTA likewise deems programs dealing with gays and lesbians, including a “GLBT Conference,” to be predominantly “chargeable.” Also, the CTA spends millions of dollars every year on political contributions, mostly to support Democratic Party causes. The NEA — which receives a portion of the fees paid by every California public school teacher – likewise classifies expenditures as chargeable even though they appear to have little to do with collective bargaining, such as programs advancing various education policies or expensive conferences for NEA staff.
“The union spends millions of teachers’ hard earned monies supporting causes and candidates that many of us oppose. The union is free to press its agenda, but individual teachers should not be forced to pay for it,” said Rebecca Friedrichs, one of the plaintiffs. “It is shocking to me and many other teachers that union officials have the power by law to spend our wages to press for causes that many of us oppose on moral, fiscal, or philosophical grounds.”
Dues and agency fees yield significant revenues for the unions. CTA’s revenue in 2011 was over $191 million, over $178 million of which came from membership dues and fees. For non- union member teachers in California, annual union dues can exceed $1,000 per teacher.
About The Center for Individual Rights:
The Center for Individual Rights is a non-profit public interest firm that specializes in civil rights, free speech, and other cases affecting individual rights. For more information, contact Terry Pell at 202-833-8400 x 113, or visit CIR’s web site at https://www.cir-usa.org.
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