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The case to watch in 2016 is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Imagine this: when you get your paycheck, in addition to deductions for taxes and insurance, there is a deduction to cover your employer’s political action fund. Your employer is free to use your contribution to support policy issues and political causes relating to its business. If you do not want to contribute, you can petition to get a portion of the money back but your employer makes it really hard to do so. And you are bullied at work if you do not cheerfully pony up.
Sounds unconstitutional, right?
But this is essentially what happens to people who work for the government in Minnesota
and other states where financial support of a union is a condition of taking and keeping a
job. When teachers, cops and MnDOT workers get their paycheck, the government has already deducted union dues from their paychecks. The government deposits the funds directly into the bank accounts of government unions. Employees never see the money.
But wait, aren’t unions spending dues to represent their members, arguably for the member’s benefit? Indeed, some portion of the dues is used for the costs of collective bargaining; the rest is used for lobbying and express political activity.
Moreover, if a teacher wants to keep her job, she does not have to join the union. She can just pay a fee to cover the costs of representing her. The U.S. Supreme Court decided decades ago that teachers and other public employees have to pay a “fair share” fee to cover the union’s estimated cost of collective bargaining.
In Minnesota, that “fair share” is set at approximately 85 percent of full dues. Many people conclude that if they have to pay almost full dues to keep their job, it is not worth the hassle to opt out of union membership. Why be ostracized? And besides, for 15 percent more, you get to keep your vote.
But what about that 85 percent?
Could it be that collective bargaining itself is inherently political? If so, it means that the “fair share” fee ordained by the Court is not fair at all.
That is the position taken by a group of California teachers in a case that was heard
on January 11th, 2016 by the U.S. Supreme Court called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. They argue that the positions and actions taken by their union via collective bargaining are just as political as express advocacy, touching on and influencing sensitive areas of state policy (education policy, pensions, taxes, spending and so on). Because this political activity is supported with forced agency fees, and there is no labor law exception to our free speech and association rights, the teachers’ argue that their First Amendment rights are being violated.
These plaintiffs may only represent a minority of teachers but since when did minority status diminish a citizen’s right to protection under the First Amendment? On the contrary, that is what was intended when the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791.
Imagine how it feels to be forced to financially support policy issues that you are philosophically opposed to—and vehemently. These public employees are being forced to fund their political opponents. And under current law, their only relief is to quit their job.
How do we square the forced agency fee with our nation’s highest ideals? The answer is, if we are being intellectually honest, we cannot.
This is why the unions were out in force on January 11th in our nation’s capital. This is why Center of the American Experiment joined dozens of other state policy organizations in an amici curiae brief in support of the case. And this is why I was standing with Rebecca Friedrichs on the steps of the Supreme Court that day. A decision is expected by June.