LOS ANGELES, CA – The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) today filed a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association (CTA) on behalf of 8 California teachers and the Association of American Educators. The suit challenges the constitutionality of California’s “agency shop” law, which violates the First Amendment by forcing public school teachers to support powerful teachers’ unions efforts to advance their political agenda through collective bargaining.
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 – even those who have opted out of joining the union – to pay several hundred dollars in fees each year for “chargeable” expenses that are related to the unions’ collective-bargaining efforts. This so-called “agency shop” arrangement violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and free association by forcing teachers to fund controversial, political, and ideological issues they disagree with.
“Forcing teachers to financially support causes that run counter to their political and policy beliefs is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights,” said Terry Pell, President of the Center for Individual Rights. “Public school teachers deserve to choose for themselves, as many workers across the country do, whether or not to fund the union’s views.”
A poll conducted by Education Next and the Harvard Kennedy School revealed that many teachers disagree with their union on some or all of the issues that unions typically negotiate on during collective bargaining disputes. Thirty percent of teachers disagree with their union on teacher tenure policies, 41 percent disagree with their union’s opposition to charter schools, and 47 percent are opposed to compelled union fees. Despite significant opposition, teachers are forced to fund these policy positions taken by unions year after year.
“My constitutional rights to free speech and association don’t stop at the school entrance,” said Ryan Yohn, one of the plaintiffs and a 13-year middle school teacher for the Westminster School District. “Each year, public school teachers in California must pay the union to promote policies that work against many of our own political, and sometimes moral, interests. I have seen firsthand examples throughout the years where an amazing teacher, loved by students and staff, was bumped out of their classroom or laid off simply because they were new, young, and temporary. Often a more senior teacher with less effectiveness took their place, affecting the quality of education in the classroom. Union-negotiated policies that teachers are forced to fund are to blame for such a system.
“If successful, this case will finally give hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public sector workers true power to decide for themselves whether to support the union’s positions,” continued Yohn.
In 2016, CIR represented Rebecca Friedrichs and other teachers in a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case. It was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2016, but ultimately ended in a tie by an equally divided court. Friedrichs left in place the laws in 23 states that unconstitutionally burden the free speech and association rights of tens of thousands of public employees.
The Supreme Court questioned the continued constitutionality of “agency shop” laws as recently as 2014. Writing for the Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn, Justice Samuel Alito said, “Agency-fee provisions unquestionably impose a heavy burden on the First Amendment interests of objecting employees.” As he further explained, it is a “bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”
“If the First Amendment protects anything, it protects the right of individuals to speak and act according to their conscience,” said Pell. “We are pleased to advocate on behalf of these teachers to help restore these fundamental rights.”
Read more about Yohn v. CTA here. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
For further questions or to speak with Terry Pell about the case, please contact Katherine Bathgate at (303) 478-8444 or Katherine@school-forward.com.
About The Center for Individual Rights
The Center for Individual Rights is a nonprofit public interest law firm that defends individual rights, with particular emphasis on civil rights and free speech. CIR provides free legal representation to deserving clients whose individual rights are threatened. Learn more about CIR’s work at cir-usa.org.
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