CIR, Teachers Ask Supreme Court to End Compulsory Union Dues

CIR’s brief pulls from evidence in pending Yohn v. CTA case and asks court to restore workers’ First Amendment rights and end burdensome opt-out procedures.

WASHINGTON, DC – The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) today filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME on behalf of seven California teachers. CIR’s brief asks the Court to end both compulsory union dues and the burdensome opt-out requirements that many unions use to collect fees from non-members.

“For more than 40 years, public sector workers, including teachers, firefighters, and police officers, have been denied their First Amendment rights and been unjustly forced to fund political speech they disagree with,” said CIR President Terry Pell. “This issue has come up repeatedly in states across the country and will now be heard for the second time in as many years by the Court. It is not going away and we are hopeful that justice for workers will finally prevail.”

CIR’s brief points out the well-established rule that public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept public employment. Their First Amendment right to decide for themselves which causes they will or will not support remain intact. Constitutional “history forecloses the theory that the government may require people to support a political or ideological cause simply because it happens to be their employer,” the brief argues.

Janus v. AFSCME is one of several cases – including Yohn v. CTA – aimed at protecting American workers and their right to free speech. CIR’s amicus brief in Janus highlights information obtained during Yohn’s proceedings and will help clarify misconceptions such as the claim that a favorable decision in Janus would make unions’ unable to bargain for workers:

“We asked the unions whether loss of compulsory fees really would make them insolvent or preclude them from serving effectively as exclusive bargaining representatives. In response, the unions never asserted (much less provided any evidence) that any such result would occur. They instead said that, if Abood falls, “some number” of workers will refuse to pay dues and that this number “may” be “substantial.” They made no effort to quantify this shortfall or to suggest that it would impede them from effectively representing employees.”

“During the Yohn proceedings, the unions provided absolutely no evidence that if forced union dues were ended, they would be unable to bargain for workers,” continued Pell. “These cases – both Yohn and Janus – are not about eliminating collective bargaining mechanisms. In states that do not allow forced union dues, unions are still able to bargain effectively for workers and have continued do so for decades. We’re simply asking that the same freedom that half of the country already has be extended to all public sector workers.”

CIR’s brief also asks the Court to end the burdensome opt-out requirements that many unions impose on non-members. These requirements make union payments the default and place the burden on workers to affirmatively opt-out of union membership. The procedures for leaving are often made as complex as possible to dissuade workers from leaving. CIR’s brief argues that “just like any other political advocacy group, a public sector union may collect donations from nonmembers only by their affirmative consent.”

The case will be argued before the Supreme Court in early 2018.

For further questions or to speak with Terry Pell, please contact Katherine Bathgate at (303) 478-8444 or

Background on Janus v. AFSCME and Yohn v. CTA:

On February 6, 2017, CIR filed a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association (CTA) on behalf of Ryan Yohn and seven other 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 fund controversial, political, an ideological issues they disagree with.  The suit also asks that unions be required to obtain an “opt-in” from teachers to join the union rather than automatically enrolling them against their will. The case is currently pending before a federal district court in Los Angeles.

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.”

On September 28th, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSME and revisit the issue presented in Friedrichs v. CTA.

Watch lead plaintiff Ryan Yohn tell his story here.

Read more about Yohn v. CTA here. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

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