Why the Supreme Court Needs to Resolve Friedrichs

Events in Chicago once again highlight the need for the Supreme Court to resolve the questions at issue in Friedrichs v. CTA. While the Supreme Court considers CIR’s Petition for Rehearing, experience is proving that Friedrichs represents ongoing problems for teachers across the country. These issues refuse to go away and deserve a decisive answer from the Supreme Court.

As CIR previously discussed, the April 1st Chicago strike put many teachers in the position of choosing between loyalty to their students and loyalty to their union. Several teachers confessed to a local paper they feared that the union was asking them to send the wrong message to their students. They confessed anonymously for fear of union discipline. Strike-breakers can be expelled from the union and lose benefits and representation rights, yet expelled teachers are still be required to pay agency fees to support the very activities they objected to. The teachers are legally bound to financially support an agenda they have misgivings about.

Now the Chicago Teacher’s Union is taking action against a dissenting teacher. Math Teacher and Chess Coach Joseph Ocol decided to break the strike and join his students. Ocol often meets with his chess team after hours, unpaid, in order to help them compete for a chance to visit the White House. Not wishing to waste precious hours preparing and studying, Ocol opted to spend April 1st with his students rather than strike.

Predictably, the union opened an investigation and told Ocol he could either pay a fine equal to his earnings received during the strike or be expelled from the union. But not even expulsion would free Ocol from the union activities he wishes to disassociate with. Under Illinois law he would be required to pay union agency fees that are equal to the amount of his dues as a member. As the union explained,

“CTU’s strike policy specifically states that members who go against the union and who are found guilty by a jury of their peers will have their membership suspended, said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.

“A strike breaker will be given the option to pay a fine equal to the member’s net earnings while working in order to be reinstated, if they so choose,” she said in an email. “If they choose not to pay the fine they will be expelled from the Union.”

If Ocol refuses to pay the fine and is expelled from his union, he will still be required by law to pay the full amount of his union dues to support the union’s efforts in bargaining and organizing strikes. The law will compel him to financially support the very activities he finds objectionable.

Teachers may reach different conclusions about the validity of their union’s activities, but the government should not put their thumb on the scale of one side or the other. The current arrangement traps teachers like Mr. Ocol and discourages them from following their conscience. Indeed, teachers like Mr. Ocol highlight the clear First Amendment problems that are raised in Friedrichs v. CTA.

While CIR’s Petition for Rehearing remains in limbo, the First Amendment rights of thousands of teachers are being aggressively violated by organizations that know the law allows them to punish and expel members yet still rely on a stream of coerced financial support. As long as the First Amendment rights of teachers like Mr. Ocol are in question, the Supreme Court should act quickly and decisively to resolve Friedrichs.