West Virginia Right-to-Work Battle May Have National Significance

A May 10 election in West Virginia could leave the state’s new right-to-work law in peril. On that day, voters will decide whether to re-elect Republican Justice Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, or replace him, possibly with union-supported Darrell McGraw.

McGraw, who is seen as leading the pack of those challenging the 12-term justice, is endorsed almost entirely by unions. If elected, he would be the fourth Democrat on the five-member court.

Flawed Dane County ruling may show the way to killing RTW in West Virginia and nationally

The main concern of those who favor giving workers the freedom to choose whether or not they have to pay a union to keep their job is that with McGraw on the bench, the West Virginia Supreme Court may have the majority it needs to issue a ruling similar to the one recently made by a Wisconsin judge striking down the state’s right-to-work protections.

As I explained in National Review:

Dane County judge William Foust ruled that under the law, “a free-rider problem is born — the ability of nonmembers to refuse to pay for services unions are compelled to provide by law.” He then sided with the three unions in the case, including the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, that argued that the right-to-work law took their property without just compensation.

The ruling is incorrect and will almost certainly be overruled.

While Wisconsin’s ruling came from a lower court and will likely be overturned by a higher court, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would be the final arbiter in a question regarding that state’s new right-to-work law. If that court says it violates federal law, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. If McGraw is elected and assists in overruling worker protections, workers’ only recourse (assuming the case involves a federal issue) is to take the question to the Supreme Court, which has been in limbo since the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia.


A leading candidate in the race for the West Virginia Supreme Court, Darrell McGraw, has the endorsement of most of the state's unions.

A leading candidate in the race for the West Virginia Supreme Court, Darrell McGraw, has the endorsement of most of the state’s unions.


The current 4-4 split means the U.S. Supreme Court may fail to uphold nearly seven decades of precedent and kill right-to-work in West Virginia. If there is a tie — as was seen in the most recent union case before the court, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association — the lower, unfavorable West Virginia ruling would stand. Such a ruling would not set a precedent for future cases or impact other states’ right-to-work protections.

If President Obama’s nominee is appointed, there may be a 5-4 majority in favor of forced unionism. As the Washington Times recently wrote, “Garland rulings consistently side with labor unions.”

A court with Garland, or an appointee like him, could conceivably strike down right-to-work for the entire country.

Can McGraw Win?

As a former Supreme Court of Appeals justice and former attorney general, McGraw benefits from better name ID than most of the other candidates on the ballot.

Noted West Virginia political commentator Hoppy Kercheval explained:

The former state Supreme Court justice and former attorney general is among five candidates vying for the single seat on the five-member court. McGraw, because of his long political career, likely enjoys the highest name recognition in the field that includes current Justice Brent Benjamin, Wayne King, Beth Walker and Bill Wooten.

Kercheval also notes that, “Additionally, it is a plurality vote, meaning the winner does not have to have a majority, just more votes than anyone else.” Because there are five candidates “theoretically, just over 20 percent of the vote would be enough to win the election. … Voter turnout in West Virginia in the last presidential primary (2012) was only 24 percent, just over 292,000 votes. If turnout for this year’s primary is similar, 60,000 votes could be enough to win.”

Kercheval shows that:

McGraw can get votes. He received 313,830 in the loss to Morrisey (329,854), though that was a two-person race and a general election, which had a much higher overall voter turnout than the primary (670,000 to 292,000).

However, it’s worth noting that Benjamin has already defeated a McGraw once, in the 2004 Supreme Court race when he unseated Darrell’s younger brother, Warren, 382,036 to 334,301. Also, Walker received 329,395 in the 2008 Supreme Court race, coming in third in the race for two seats behind Democrats Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman.

Will unions have a majority on the West Virginia Court?

According to a 2015 study from West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a nonprofit citizen watchdog group that fights lawsuit abuse, two of the justices, Democrat Robin Davis and Democrat Margaret Workman, joined together 68 percent of the time on non-unanimous decisions.

Still, there is hope. Only Davis dissented on a procedural issue during the right-to-work fight that would have killed the chances of the bill. The question was whether the governor had to appoint a Republican or a Democrat to fill a seat vacated by a Republican who had been elected as a Democrat. Workman wrote the majority opinion stating a Republican had to be appointed.

Workman was joined by Democrat Chief Justice Menis Ketchum and Republican Justice Allen Loughry; Benjamin did not participate in the decision due to a conflict of interest.

If McGraw is elected, it would take only one justice siding with a likely Davis vote against right-to-work, to make worker freedom in West Virginia history.

Worse, if Merrick Garland or someone of similar persuasion is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the outlook for right-to-work across the country could be in jeopardy.

About The Author: F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan. Nathan Lehman, a 2014 research intern with the Center, contributed to this article. This issue originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Labor Watch and is republished here with permission.

Exclusive Interview with Rebecca Friedrichs

Rebecca Friedrichs, a third-grade teacher in the Savanna School District, which serves portions of northwest Orange County, is the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a lawsuit brought by several teachers that challenged the hegemonic power of their union to collect fees from non-union members. The challenge, made on First Amendment grounds, could have a significant impact on the way unions do business.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January, and a ruling was expected over the summer. But with the untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the largest threat to union power in recent memory may have subsided, at least for now.

We sat down with Rebecca Friedrichs to talk about the case and its future.

Rebecca Friedrichs, both a California teacher and integral proponent to challenging the current application of union "collective bargaining."

Rebecca Friedrichs, both a California teacher and integral proponent to challenging the current concept of union “collective bargaining.”

(1) First, what was it like to have your case heard before the Supreme Court?

Having our case heard before the US Supreme Court was such an honor.  Our voices have been silenced by forced unionism for decades, so it was a liberating feeling to listen as the Justices heard our pleas for freedom from coerced union speech.  We were awed by the beauty of the historical artwork within the Court, the respectful nature of the Court proceedings, and by the remarkable support we received from many supporters who rallied on our behalf outside on the steps of the Court.  That day will forever live in my memory as breathtaking blessing from God.

(2) How do you think the oral arguments went?

I feel very good about the oral arguments.  It seemed that the Justices heard our side of the issues, and I’m hopeful and praying that they will rule in favor of our Constitutional First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

(3) Now, a little background, why did you become a teacher?

I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in sixth grade.  Then I had a seventh grade English teacher who really inspired me, and that solidified my desire to become a teacher so that I could inspire children to love learning too.  I’ve never regretted the decision because working with little children has been very rewarding.  There’s nothing like being part of the excitement when small children discover new and exciting information.  Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s my desire to help them to become enthusiastic lifelong learners.

(4) Did you consider the fact that you would have to join the union?

I never even knew about the teachers’ unions until I was a student teacher, which was only six months before I was hired as an elementary school teacher.  Sadly, my lesson about teachers’ unions was the result of an experience I had during student teaching.  I was learning how to teach under a highly qualified and loving master teacher, but next door to us was a teacher who had lost her patience with children, and in my opinion, she was abusive to them.  Every day I would witness her grab the children by the arms, yank them into line, and yell in their little faces.  These children were in first grade; they were only six years old.  I was so disturbed by the abuse that I asked my master teacher what could be done about the situation. At that time, she sat me down and educated me on teachers’ unions.  She explained that tenure made it very difficult for administrators to rid districts of teachers who had become incompetent or even abusive, and she also informed me of the unions’ collective political efforts which were against almost everything I believed.

(5) How involved have you been in the union? What were some of the policies you disagreed with and how did the union respond to your concerns? Were you ostracized or retaliated against?

I was a full union member from around 1998 – 2012.  During that time, I served as a union site representative, and I also served two years as the secretary on our local union executive board, so in all, I served three years as a union leader within my district.  After stepping down as a leader, I remained engaged with the union leadership in an effort to help with extremely low morale in our school district.

I disagreed with many of the policies of our union including tenure, attacks on school choice, and the single-minded focus on raises at the expense of a more well rounded curriculum for the children.

During the downturn in our economy, I was a union board member.  The district alerted us that they would have to lay off several newer teachers because of a lack of funds. The teachers who would lose their jobs were doing an outstanding job, and many of my colleagues were eager to support ideas to save those jobs.  I surveyed a number of teachers on my campus, and they were willing to take a small pay cut in order to save the jobs of their friends, keep class sizes lower, and to stand in solidarity with the community we serve because many of the parents had lost their jobs or taken severe salary cuts.  I brought this idea to our union leadership on several occasions.  Every time I was met with resistance and told that the teachers would never go for it.  When I suggested an anonymous survey so that teachers could share their voices with the leadership, I was again told no.  After pursuing this idea for weeks, a union leader said, “Rebecca, don’t worry about those teachers. The union is going to take care of them. We’re going to offer them a seminar on how to receive unemployment benefits.”  I was shocked.  I told them that those teachers didn’t want to be on unemployment, they wanted to teach, and their students and the community deserved to have them in the classroom.  Every one of those teachers was laid off that year.  All of them left demoralized and feeling they were inferior teachers.  In reality, they were stellar educators, but the union they were forced to give $1000 a year didn’t “represent” them at all.

(6) What made you decide to take action? What was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

I decided to take action because I discovered after years of trying to make a difference within the union and within my district that even union leaders are ignored and bullied if they dare to stand against the union status quo.  No matter how many times I tried to reason with my local union on behalf of my colleagues, no one ever took action to support the needs of my colleagues and myself; even though we were paying the bills.  No matter how many times I brought up our collective concerns about the political efforts of our union, the many negative issues surrounding tenure and other union policies that many of us feel harm our students, the voices of my colleagues and I were never heard. On top of that, every education reform I believe in is defeated by the union I’m forced to fund.

Someone had to speak up to alert the American people that their teachers are being mistreated by a private organization we are forced to fund, and that the very organization that claims to “represent” teachers and protect children is actually the money behind defeating common sense education reforms that would be good for our children and teachers.

(7) The case revolves around “agency fees.” What are agency fees? How are they different from dues and why shouldn’t teachers have to pay them?

There is only one way in which teachers can be union members, and that is to pay full collective bargaining fees and the overt political dues that fund union politics (like contributions to candidates and ballot measures).  Full membership dues run around $1,000 a year in California, and I know teachers who pay as much as $1200.  So, teacher payments are called “dues” when teachers pay for collective bargaining and overt union politics.

If teachers want to avoid paying for the overt politics of the union, which have nothing to do with their jobs, they can elect to become “fee payers,” but they lose their membership and all benefits of membership.  So “fees” are all of the dues minus the overt political portion of the dues.

Fee payers pay 100% of the union dues, and at the end of the year, they can send a request to receive a rebate of the funds that were used for the union’s overt politics; the rebate is usually around 30% – 35% of the dues.  If fee payers forget to send their rebate requests during the short window provided for rebates, they do not receive their rebates, but they are still considered “fee payers,” and non members.   The union gets to decide for itself which expenditures are considered “chargeable” to fee payers or “nonchargeable” and overtly political.

Although fee payers, like myself, pay 100% of the collective bargaining fees, we are denied a vote on the collective bargaining agreements that we are forced to teach under, and we are denied the right to serve within union leadership. We lose all benefits of membership including our professional liability insurance and other perks like life insurance which are only available to us through the union.  Because we lose our liability insurance, most fee payers replace that insurance through private organizations like Association of American Educators (AAE) or Christian Educators Association International (CEAI), so we spend our rebates on our liability insurance coverage.

(8) The union says without agency fees, it would create a class of “free riders,” who receive the benefits of union membership without paying for it and leave the union destitute. How do you respond?

First of all, it’s not a free ride if you never asked for the ride in the first place. No one asked me if I wanted to be represented by the union. Second, the unions lobby the legislature for the power to have the right to bargain on behalf of all public sector workers, even if a worker doesn’t want to be a member. So, they are out there actively working for laws that create the “free rider” problem.

The union consistently states that fee payers are “benefitting” from their collective bargaining efforts; however, many of us don’t think the collective bargaining agreements are benefits. In my value system, it’s immoral to place my narrow financial self-interest above the needs of my community, my students and my country. So when my union uses my forced fees to gain more and more for me at the expense of my students, my community and my country, I am offended and forced to take “benefits” that for which I never asked.  I have so many ideas to improve our schools that I’d love to bring to the table, but my union (with my money) stifles my ideas and often promotes ideas and policies that are in direct opposition to what I (as a 28 year classroom teacher) feel would be beneficial to my students and to other students across this country.

The union takes my forced fees, yet they give me no voice and no vote in collective bargaining, and they strip me of liability insurance and membership.  The truth is that I’m a forced rider and the unions have been free riding off of me and teachers like me for almost 40 years.

There are currently 25 states with Right to Work laws, and in those states, teachers have the right to choose whether or not to pay or join those unions.  The unions are not destitute in those states; in fact, they’re doing quite well.  The union’s argument that giving teachers choice would decimate the unions is simply a scare tactic.

(9) How have you been received by other teachers?

There are, of course, some union members who are angry with me; however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the large number of teachers who have reached out to support me from across the country.  Most teachers who support me do so quietly because they’re too afraid to speak out publicly, but some are gaining the courage to speak out publicly as well.  Isn’t it tragic that so many teachers across the country have been bullied into silence by a union that claims to “represent” their best interests?  It is my sincere hope that people across this country will become acutely aware of the abuse their beloved teachers have been enduring for decades at the hands of unions they’ve been forced to fund, and that those Americans will speak up in defense of teachers everywhere so that the teachers themselves will be able to find the courage to speak out as well.

(10) Why do you think more teachers don’t speak out as you have?

Three words:  They are afraid.

(11) How do you think the passing of Justice Scalia will affect the outcome of the case?

We were very sad to hear about Justice Scalia’s passing. My heart is broken for his family. He was a brilliant man of integrity and faith.  Our country was blessed by his service, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see him in action the day our case was heard.  Although I am personally hoping and praying for a positive decision this term, we don’t know what the outcome of the case will be.  Court observers expect that if a decision is reached without Scalia, it will be a 4-4 tie. That would leave this very important issue unresolved. We think this issue needs to be put to rest once and for all—and we may need a Supreme Court with 9 members to reach a decision, so if necessary, we are going to push for a final decision to be made by the Supreme Court when there are 9 members.  In other words, if we get a tied decision, we will ask for the case to be re-heard when a new Justice is confirmed.

Friedrichs Case Petitioners: For Want of a Justice

Karen Cuen has more than a casual interest in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in January. She is one of the parties to a case whose future course became unclear following the Feb. 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Cuen is a music, band, and choir teacher who has taught elementary school students in Chino Valley, California, for over 20 years. She does not feel that the teachers union represents her best interests, and she is not a member. But since California is not a right-to-work state, she is required to pay fees to the union.

If Cuen and the other petitioners in Friedrichs prevail, they will be able to opt out of paying the CTA and its local affiliates.

Karen Cuen is a plantiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving mandatory union fees.

Karen Cuen is a plantiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving mandatory union fees.

“I became disenchanted with the teachers union when I realized they were not about what’s best for kids and public education,” Cuen said. “I realized they were about politics and protecting their own, even if ‘their own’ were poor teachers who should not be in the classroom.”

The union representation fees Cuen must pay as a nonmember are spent on politics, she said, including union negotiations for policies such as pay increases that reward longevity with no regard for effectiveness.

She disagrees with many of these positions but is forced to pay for them to keep her job.

“When budgets are tight and teachers must be laid off, the newest teachers are the first to go,” she said, explaining last-in, first-out, a practice demanded by the CTA and other unions. “This policy has become the status quo and it is not good for students.”

“New teachers are often some of the most excited. They come up with new ideas and great teaching strategies. Letting these kinds of teachers go is just bad business,” Cuen said.

The teachers who brought the case to the Supreme Court argue that mandatory union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment rights of nonmembers since public employee unions engage in politically charged negotiations over taxpayer resources, public services, and government workers.

What would happen were the court to rule for Cuen?

“A favorable ruling would mean that after 20-plus years as an agency fee payer, I would finally stop having money taken out of my paycheck without my consent,” she said.

“It would mean that if teachers unions want their members’ money, they’d better come up with an attractive, responsible, user-friendly organization that listens to its members and provides services that are focused on working conditions for its members, not politics and social issues.”

Arguing against Cuen and her fellow petitioners, union lawyers warn that ending mandatory fees in the public sector would upset labor peace, harming workers by weakening unions.

Cuen disagrees, saying public employee unions could become stronger, not weaker.

If the CTA and other teachers unions had to earn members’ dues, “union members would actually want to be members and would be glad to be associated with the union,” Cuen said. “How is this a bad thing?”

During oral arguments on Jan 11., a majority of Supreme Court justices seemed sympathetic to the position advanced by attorneys representing Cuen and the other teachers. Counsel for the petitioners has asked the court to rehear the case after a replacement for Scalia is confirmed.

About the Author: Jason Hart is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at, The Daily Signal, RedState, Washington Examiner, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin.

Big Labor’s Rollercoaster of Emotions

The unfortunate and untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has Big Labor bosses and their liberal political allies cheering. Scalia would have been the decisive vote in a major Supreme Court decision affecting labor unions scheduled for this June (see Why Antonin Scalia was a jurist of colossal consequence). Justice Scalia’s influence would have impacted government union bosses, as he most likely would have voted in favor of union members in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involves a California teacher who claims her First Amendment rights have been violated by having to pay union dues, even though she isn’t a member of the union. This matter was further chronicled in a previous blog, Will the Supreme Court undo the damage done to the rights of millions of government workers?

Such a defeat could have been a death spiral for Public Sector Unions. Without a replacement for Scalia, the vote could end up in a tie, considering the Supreme Court is now divided evenly — four liberal justices and four conservative justices. In the event of a tie, the decision of the lower court continues to stand. In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the labor unions.

Despite the fact President Obama will push for a quick replacement for Scalia, likely a liberal candidate, which would tilt the Supreme Court to the left, and unions don’t technically even need this appointment, as they are currently in position to Win by Default. This could also be a setback to Christian businesses in America. Without Scalia’s vote, cases involving Religious Beliefs and Christian Values may swing against such businesses due to a likely liberal selection by the President.

Big Labor’s cheering will be somewhat dampened by the news that West Virginia just voted to become the 26th Right-To-Work (RTW) State, effective July 1, 2016. West Virginia makes the fourth state to pass RTW legislation in the last 4 years –along with Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. It is obvious that the country is moving in a new direction and that there is actually a movement for National RTW Legislation. This recent development, combined with the fact that Democrats may lose the 2016 Presidential Election and continue to be the congressional minority, has the big labor bosses concerned. Undoubtedly, they will be a Major Presence in the 2016 Elections, as they may possibly face extinction if they lose this Election.

I often experience flashbacks of the SEIU attacks made against my company when watching Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama speak. They are using the same misguided promises, false information, lies, rhetoric and intimidation tactics the SEIU utilized when attempting to force unionize my employees. It is imperative that a Supreme Court decision is not made in favor of big labor as a result of Scalia’s death.

There is no doubt Scalia’s Death Throws a Wrench in the Bench. However, it is time for Americans from both sides of the aisle to band together, absent political persuasion, to assure that Scalia’s replacement will be one that does not represent progressive ideology, but rather someone who Defends the Constitution of the United States of America and the future of this great country — as Antonin Scalia notably did for so many years.

About the Author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” as well as the just released sequel, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

Supreme Court Tone Appears to Favor Ending Agency Fees to Unions

Last month a group of California teachers fighting mandatory union fees at the U.S. Supreme Court had, by all appearances, a good day.

Supreme Court justices seemed receptive to the arguments brought by teachers in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case. If the case is successful, Rebecca Friedrichs and other government workers across the nation will gain the ability to opt out of agency fees unions charge to nonmembers.

Remarks from several of the justices indicated they agree with Friedrichs on a central point, that public sector union negotiations are inherently political because they involve taxpayer money, public employees, and government services. This fact makes collective bargaining in government workplaces different from its counterpart in the private sector.

This is crucial to the Friedrichs case because the First Amendment protects against compelled political speech, and the CTA — like many public sector unions — takes mandatory agency fees from nonmembers to cover its collective bargaining costs.

Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher who is the lead plantiff in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association U.S. Supreme Court case.

Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher who is the lead plantiff in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association U.S. Supreme Court case.

“The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition,” Justice Antonin Scalia said.

“When you are dealing with a governmental agency, many critical points are matters of public concern,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, adding, “The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.”

Regarding union negotiations on teachers pay, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “the amount of money that’s going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that’s always a public policy issue.”

Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia are considered the swing votes in the case. Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas are widely expected to rule in favor of letting teachers and other public employees decline union membership without being forced to pay agency fees.

Patrick Wright, the vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, attended oral arguments and said the justices’ comments were a good sign for Friedrichs and her fellow petitioners.

“The court seemed quite receptive to the argument that agency fees subsidize speech that many public employees strongly disagree with, thereby converting them into compelled riders,” Wright said.

The biggest surprise, he said, was Kennedy’s skepticism of agency fees in the public sector.

“If the tone of oral argument translates to votes, it seems likely that there are five votes to find that compelling subsidization of union speech through the use of agency fees will be declared unconstitutional,” Wright added.

California Solicitor General Edward DuMont, speaking against the teachers seeking an end to agency fees, made little effort to dispute the notion public sector collective bargaining is political.

Under questioning from Roberts, DuMont conceded that “there are deep public policy implications to many of the topics and to the general tenor of public employee bargaining.

DuMont argued primarily in defense of exclusive representation in the public sector, which means a bargaining unit in a government workplace can be represented by no more than one labor union. A win for Friedrichs would not affect exclusive representation.

DuMont, union attorney David Frederick, and Obama administration Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said government employers support agency fees, and asked the court to stand by the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision allowing mandatory union fees in the public sector.

States, Frederick said, “can make rational and reasonable judgments that for their workability of a system, they can have an agency-fee process.”

“Overruling Abood now would substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country,” Frederick warned.

Ending agency fees in the public sector, Verrilli said, would “disrupt those long-term relationships that have developed over time” between government employers, employees, and unions.

DuMont, Frederick, and Verrilli defended the Abood precedent with help from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan, and — to a lesser extent — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer.

Kagan emphasized her concern that ending agency fees could disrupt “tens of thousands of contracts,” particularly their provisions concerning agency fees.

Calling mandatory fees from nonmembers “bargained for benefits” in existing contracts, Kagan continued, “the unions would have gotten different things if that provision had not been there.”

After insisting the California Teachers Association is a government entity under state law, Sotomayor wondered aloud if the government itself could fund public employee unions in the absence of agency fees.

Michael Carvin, attorney for the Friedrichs petitioners, argued that concerns over existing contracts were not a reason to stick with the Abood precedent because “Abood erroneously denies a fundamental right.”

A decision in the case is expected in June; until then, even the most informed observer can only speculate as to how each justice will rule.

About the Author: Jason Hart is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at, The Daily Signal, RedState, Washington Examiner, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin.

Friedrichs Means Choice for Children and Teachers

It goes without saying that education and economics go hand in hand. For most parents, regardless of race or class, part of the American Dream is for our children to attend safe, family friendly, high-quality schools with great principals, teachers and support staff. As parents, we imagine that special day when our children graduate high school, attend a traditional college or trade school, and then obtain livable wage employment, hopefully with family friendly benefits.

The harsh reality, however, is that many parents, especially from Black and poor communities, must send their children to public schools that do not meet their academic and life needs. In addition, parents are learning that the many teachers who work tirelessly to put the needs of children first, don’t have much power within their own unions to effectively support students. Why? Because I learned, through the suit of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that many teachers are beholden to a narrow electorate of union politicians that shape education policy to favor the political agendas of union leadership, rather than the students in greatest need. All of this, at the expense of the taxpayer, regardless of results.

The California Teacher Association's 23 Board of Directors. CTA’s Board of Directors oversee the implementation of all CTA policies from the State Council of Education. Board members serve on numerous committees and task forces within CTA and with state and local agencies.

The California Teacher Association’s 23 Board of Directors.

So, what do parents need to know about Friedrichs? Plenty. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case brought by Mrs. Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers who are not members of the teacher’s union, but are required to pay agency fees to the union, say that they do not benefit from the collective bargaining agreement and that collective bargaining is political because it includes workplace rules and requirements that prevent laws from being passed that would improve under-performing and under-served schools.

Friedrichs and many of her fellow teachers share the dreams we parents have for our children. This includes safe, high-quality schools that equitably educate all children, regardless of their zip-code and they encourage their colleagues to deliver the best possible teaching to all children, regardless of their family backgrounds. The reality is that families of color like mine are not alone in our fight for fair and just education.

For me, the suit brought by Friedrichs and her nine other colleagues brings awareness of the consequences of forced compulsory dues laws. While compulsory laws may have had good intentions decades ago, laws that force parents and teachers to do what is against their interests and those of children are wrong. It is unconstitutional, unethical, and wrong to force parents to send their kids to unsafe and low performing schools. It is unconstitutional, unethical, and wrong to force teachers to pay for other people’s political campaigns and agendas. Neither parents nor teachers should be forced to do what they believe is morally wrong.

How can it be legal to force someone, in this case a teacher, to pay for an organization’s political agenda? How can forced compulsory dues laws be consistent with the First Amendment guarantees of free speech? Do the Constitutional rights of the individual matter? For both teachers and families, our ability to choose, either to support or not support political action, or to choose schools for our kids, is a Constitutional matter upon which no one should encroach.

But Friedrichs isn’t just about choice. It is also about justice, especially for our children. As parents, we are tirelessly fighting for equitable changes that would improve schools in disenfranchised and marginalized communities are prevented by union collective bargaining agreements. Each day, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and their affiliates use dollars forced out of the pockets of teachers to advance policies, laws, and collective bargaining agreements that stand against justice for our children and even against the interests of teachers they proclaim to represent.

Mrs. Rebecca Friedrichs, (as shown) alongside 9 fellow Californian teachers, passionately believe that the forced compulsory laws behind California's Education System are unethical in nature.

Rebecca Friedrichs

If NEA and AFT were no longer able to force every teacher—even teachers who disagree with those policies—to fund their advocacy, we would have a better chance at adopting reforms that are fair to effective teachers and meet the needs of students. We could get rid of the policies and practices advanced by National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates that prevent justice for students most in need of meaningful review of teacher performance, demand assignment and retention of teachers based on seniority rather than effectiveness and need, and insist that teachers be compensated without regard to what, where, or how well they teach. We could instead fight for policies that bring justice to our children.

As a Black parent, living in the age of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and the many unarmed Black people that needlessly lost their lives in 2015, what I want and need more than anything is for the Constitution to matter for all citizens. Children and families need our government to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the equal protection of the laws and due process for all.

So you can imagine that I empathize with Friedrichs and her colleagues. She is compelled to send her dues to an education bureaucracy with which she did not agree, the same way parents like me are compelled by law to send our own children to schools that we do not trust. Her compulsory dues, like my children’s compulsory attendance, are part of a system designed to protect the economic interests of a white professional class at the expense of the freedom and equality for black, Hispanic, and Native American students.

Parents want the freedom to demand high quality educational opportunities for our children, and teachers like Friedrichs agree with us. But she is forced by these laws to fund anti-parent choice, anti-accountability lobbying that is fundamentally unjust. And this is wrong.

The research is clear: a quality education is the foundation needed to help ensure families and communities obtain careers that will lead to fulfilling, equitable lives. Parents like me are grateful for teachers like Friedrichs. Their fight is not only constitutionally just, it is also necessary for our public education bureaucracy to work the way it should, on behalf of children.

About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Enemies of Choice

The teachers unions’ fight against parental and teacher choice is not going well for them.

Teacher union membership is dwindling. In fact, it has dipped below 50 percent nationwide, down from a high of almost 70 percent in 1993. Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, having  become “right-to-work” (RTW) states over the past several years, have given teacher freedom a big boost. Wisconsin, which also limits teachers’ collective bargaining activities via Act 10, has seen its National Education Association affiliate’s numbers cut by more than half. Prior to the legislation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council had approximately 100,000 members. It now has fewer than 40,000, according to the MacIiver Institute.

In Michigan, the teachers unions have lost 20 percent of their membership since becoming a RTW state in 2012, but this number will grow. Many unions, sensing the inevitability of RTW legislation in the Wolverine State, signed long-term contacts with their school districts. However, once those contracts expire, more teachers will be liberated from paying forced union dues. But as Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Tom Gantert points out, the RTW law is just one reason for the drop in union participation. He writes, “There also has been steady growth in the number of Michigan public charter schools. Hardly any charters are unionized.”

Nationally, the NEA has also seen its numbers dwindle; its membership is down more than 9 percent over the last four years. This includes a 7.5 percent decline in the number of classroom teachers, which is one reason why the union’s dues revenue has declined since 2011.

Of course freedom from forced unionism could greatly accelerate in 2016 courtesy of the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. If the litigants are victorious, no teacher – or public employee – in the country will be forced to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment. With oral arguments in just 13 days, the ruling will be finalized in six months.

In addition to losing members, the unions are also losing the PR battle. According to a recent Education Next poll, fifty percent of all teachers think that forced dues payment is wrong, while 38 percent support it. (The general public is 43-34 percent in favor of choice.) Interestingly, the same poll shows that while 57 of teachers think that unions “have a positive effect on schools,” just 30 percent of the general public thinks so.)

As the unions battle teachers over forced dues payments, their efforts are equally fierce against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their children. Other than an unfavorable ruling in Friedrichs, the worst nightmare for the unions is giving parents choices – charter schools, and worse, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and educational savings accounts. And the unions are not doing well on that count either. A national poll conducted earlier this year shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans support school choice. (The two battles are interrelated: As teachers leave their unions, there is less money for the unions to spend on fighting choice bills in state legislatures. And more private choice options translate to fewer unionized teachers.)

There are now 6,700 charter schools serving nearly 3 million students in 43 states and D.C. As for private sector choice, there are now 56 different programs operating in 28 states. In 2000-2001, there were just 29,000 students in these programs, but by 2014-2015, that number had grown over 12-fold to 354,000. In light of the fact that parents take advantage of the private option when available, their kids perform better in these choice programs and they save the taxpayers money, the unions can’t put up much of a reasoned argument.

Indeed, desperation is setting in.

Frequently unions use kids as human shields to couch their opposition to privatization. But one union boss had a unique (if ridiculous) take on it recently. When asked about a Fordham Institute study on America’s Best and Worst Cities for School Choice that ranked Atlanta as the ninth most “choice-friendly” city, Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, responded, “That’s like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation.”

The new year looms large for choice. With a Friedrichs decision due in June, teacher and parental choice could get an enormous boost. And no one will be murdered because of it. The self-serving teachers unions’ bottom line will suffer some serious body trauma, however.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The National Education Association's Stagnant Finances

As Dropout Nation reported last week, National Education Association has had to deal with declining rank-and-file numbers as well as prop up affiliates struggling with pension woes and other issues. None of this, by the way, includes the nation’s largest teachers’ union’s own virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pension.

Yet as NEA has shown in its 2014-2015 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, it hasn’t done much to reign in its costs even while revenue remains stagnant.

The union reported overall revenue of $389 million in 2014-2015, a one percent increase over the previous year. Dues and agency fee collections barely budged over the previous year, remaining at $363 million. If not for a 31 percent increase in “other receipts” (including vendor rebates and reimbursements by affiliates for using NEA’s software and technology services), the union’s revenue would have declined.

NEA Executive Director John Stocks. One of the 42 "NEA Leaders" to be compensated over $200,000

NEA Executive Director John Stocks. One of the 42 “NEA Leaders” to be compensated over $200,000

While NEA’s revenue didn’t increase, its expenses certainly did. The union spent $362 million in 2014-2015, a 2.8 percent increase over the previous years (or nearly $10 million more than last year). Much of that increase can be attributed to a 30 percent increase in direct lobbying spending, as well as a 4.5 percent increase in union administration costs. Adding 21 more employees earning six-figure sums also didn’t help the expense line. The union only slightly trimmed its benefits payouts, reducing those costs by a mere 2.3 percent.

Meanwhile NEA spent big on its annual convention at Walt Disney World in Orlando. This included $216,375 for meetings and hotel rooms at the resort’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel, $131,192 at Walt Disney World’s Buena Vista Palace Hotel. Among the other big hotel spends: NEA dropped $39,641 with Kimpton Hotel’s swanky Grand Solamar, spent $54,155 at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, ran up $57,365 at the MGM Resorts, and put down $70,876 with Hilton’s Minneapolis hotel.

Yet for all the spending, NEA managed to come up with a surplus of $27 million. This is 18 percent lower than the surplus generated in 2013-2014. But a surplus (or profit, as it is known in Corporate America) is still a surplus. The big question is how long can the state of affairs last. As Dropout Nation noted last week, the union defined-benefit pension is virtually insolvent to the tune of $111 million, according to the plan’s 2013 announcement to retirees. This is a 37 percent increase in unfunded liabilities over the previous year, and 82 percent more than liability levels two years ago. The union has $364 million in assets that could be liquidated in order to cover those liabilities today. But with shortfalls increasing at a fast clip, the union may end up in dire straits itself.

These woes come just as the union and its affiliates must deal with the possible aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court abolishing compulsory dues laws nationally with a ruling next year in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. [Dropout Nation, Editor RiShawn Biddle, and Contributing Editors Gwen Samuel and Dmitri Mehlhorn, are parties to an amicus brief filed in the case.] If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, as it is likely based on Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in last year’s ruling in Harris v. Quinn, NEA could lose at least a quarter of rank-and-file, taking a $66 million hit to its coffers (based on 2014-2015 dues and agency fee collections). This would mean a dramatic reduction in dollars available to the union both to pay down its pension as well as dole out for influence-spending.

While NEA’s Golden State affiliate has developed plans to deal with the aftermath of an end to compulsory dues, other state units haven’t done so. NEA itself doesn’t seem to have a plan in place at all. Unlike rival American Federation of Teachers, NEA hasn’t taken the step of aggressively expanding into other union-dominated fields such as healthcare and hasn’t done the kind of talent-hiring from unions such as Service Employees International Union that would be helpful in organizing. Also, unlike AFT, NEA hasn’t offered an associate membership category that would allow teachers and others to join the union and pay dues into it. While NEA may hope that the status quo remains ante on this front, it isn’t likely. And refusing to tackle those issues head-on may leave it weaker in the long run.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT spending.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Friedrichs Free Rider Fraud

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Friedrichs case has the unions in a tizzy.

On June 30th, the Supreme Court decided to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al, a case that could seriously change the way the public employee unions (PEUs) do business. If the plaintiffs are victorious, teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, etc. would be able to work without the financial burden of paying union dues. The responses to the Court’s decision from the teachers unions and their friends have ranged from silly to contradictory to blatantly dishonest.

In a rare event, leaders of the NEA, AFT, CTA, AFSCME and SEIU released a joint statement explaining that worker freedom would be a catastrophe for the Republic. Clutching their hankies, they told us that, “big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance.” And then, with an obvious attempt at eliciting a gasp, “…the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America.” (Perhaps the labor bosses misunderstood the wording of the preamble to the Constitution, “In order to form a more perfect union….” No, this was not an attempt to organize workers.) While the U.S. is not without its problems, removing forced unionism will hardly dent the “fundamental promise of America.”

The California Federation of Teachers, which typically is at the forefront of any class warfare sorties, didn’t disappoint. The union claims on its website that the activity of union foes “has resulted in a sharp decline in median wages for working people and the decline of the middle class alongside the increasing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of the one per cent.” But wait a minute – the unions are the most potent political force in the country today and have been for a while. According to Open Secrets, between 1989-2014, the much maligned one-percenter Koch Brothers ranked 59th in political donations behind 18 different unions. The National Education Association was #4 at $53,594,488 and the American Federation of Teachers was 12th at $36,713,325, while the Kochs spent a measly $18,083,948 during that time period. Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.”

So the question to the unions becomes, “With your extraordinary political clout and assertion that working people’s wages and membership in the middle class are declining, just what good have you done?”

Apparently very little. In fact, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research reports that when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – is adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) are forced-union states. “Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws.” Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 “was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.”

But the most galling and downright fraudulent union allegations about Friedrichs concern the “free rider” issue. If the case is successful, public employees will have a choice whether or not they have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. (There are 25 states where workers now have this choice, but in the other 25 they are forced to pay to play.) The unions claim that since they are forced to represent all workers, that those who don’t pay their “fair share” are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” The unions would have a point if someone was sticking a gun to their collective heads and said, “Like it or not, you must represent all workers.” But as I wrote recently, the forced representation claim is a big fat lie. Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst James Sherk explains,

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions that demonstrate majority support to negotiate as exclusive representatives. If they do so they must negotiate fairly on behalf of all employees, including those who do not pay dues. However unions may disavow (or not obtain) exclusive representative status and negotiate only for their members. Nothing in the National Labor Relations Act forces exclusive representation on unwilling unions. (Emphasis added.)

Mike Antonucci adds,

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a ‘privilege’ we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

If there are still any doubters, George Meany, the first president of the AFL-CIO, whose rein began in 1955 and continued for 24 years, told Congress,

When a union has exclusive recognition with a federal activity or agency, that union is required to represent all workers in that unit, whether or not those workers are members of the union. We do not contest this requirement. We support it for federal service, just as we support it in private industry labor-management relations.

While the NLRA applies only to private employee unions, the same types of rules invariably govern PEUs. Passed in 1976, California’s Rodda Act allows for exclusive representation and it’s up to each school district and its local union whether or not they want to roll that way. However, it is clearly in the best interest of the union to be the only representative for teachers because it then gets to collect dues from every teacher in the district. It’s also easier on school boards as they only have to deal with one bargaining entity. So it is really a corrupt bargain; there is no law foisting exclusivity on any teachers union in the state.

So exclusive representation is good for the unions and simplifies life for the school boards, but very bad for teachers who want nothing to do with organized labor. It is also important to keep in mind that the Friedrichs case is not an attempt to “bust unions.” This silly mantra is a diversionary tactic; the case in no way suggests a desire to do away with unions. So when organized labor besieges us with histrionics about “the promise of America,” the dying middle class, free riders etc., please remind them (with a nod to President Obama), “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” In this case, it’s the truth.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Union-dues case moves closer to Supreme Court

Sometimes you win by losing.

That’s precisely what occurred last week, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the motion by Rebecca Friedrichs’ attorneys to decide her case (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) on the basis of the pleadings, without a trial or additional oral arguments.

The “loss” actually means that plaintiffs – several California public school teachers – can immediately file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court without having to wait the one to two years it usually takes to get a case through the 9th Circuit before appealing to the Supreme Court. The Center for Individual Rights – counsel for Friedrichs and the other teacher plaintiffs – worked to expedite the proceedings. Essentially, they elected to “lose” in the lower courts, reinforcing their contention that only the Supreme Court has authority to grant them their petitioned relief.

The ruling was the result of a tactical maneuver by plaintiffs to get their motion for a decision on the pleadings in front of a motions panel that is assigned monthly to consider procedural motions rather than allowing it to languish until a panel could be assigned to hear the substantive appeal. The motions panel ruled there is nothing of substance to decide in Friedrichs because it is governed by past Supreme Court precedent, which the 9th Circuit is powerless to overturn.

According to plaintiff’s counsel Terry Pell, “This is a big development. It means we are within spitting distance of the Supreme Court. It also means that Friedrichs is all but certain to be the case where the court either allows compulsory dues to continue or ends the practice. It leaves no middle ground.”

Plaintiffs anticipate the court will take the case in spring 2015, with a 2016 decision.

Friedrichs involves a state’s right to require public employees, including teachers, to pay union dues, called “agency shop” laws. Twenty-six states, including California, require such. Friedrichs argues this violates free-speech rights.

Friedrichs has national implications. “This case is about the right of teachers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union. If we win, we will not just strike down the law in California but compulsory union-dues laws nationally,” Pell explained.

While California teachers are not required to join the union, they still must pay union dues, but they can get a refund of the approximately one-third of dues that CTA claims goes toward political action.

Plaintiffs argue the case concerns the First Amendment right of public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and financially support a union. Their case argues that collective bargaining activities are just as political as anything else the union does, and contend that the government cannot compel individuals to financially support the political positions taken by unions in collective bargaining negotiations.

CTA has argued that compulsory dues are needed to prevent employees from “free riding” – gaining the benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining on their behalf, without paying for them.

Last June, the Supreme Court stopped short of doing away with compulsory dues in a 5-4 ruling in Harris v. Quinn.

I recently opined on the outsized political influence CTA wields on California legislative policy and elections. With 325,000 members, and the collection of mandatory dues from members, it usually gets its way in the Capitol, and in most elections. If the Supreme Court rules that individual public employees are not bound to pay dues to their unions, CTA’s money chest – and its political hegemony – will be diminished, inextricably altering the balance of power in California.

This is the case that may decide it all: hence, all eyes are on it.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Teachers Stand Against Union Tyranny

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet, because of laws that favor powerful unions and “labor peace” over the rights of individuals, millions of public school teachers have lost their rights to free speech and free association. We are required, as a condition of employment, to financially support teachers unions and their political agendas.

Americans of all political preferences would rise up against such tyranny if their rights were squelched by corporations, yet teachers unions have been legally trampling the free-speech rights of teachers throughout our nation for decades through forced dues used to fund their one-sided political agendas. This practice is unconscionable; especially considering that unions are tax-free “corporations” who long ago abandoned the individual rights and desires of their members.

For years, many brave teachers have attempted to make our voices heard within our union leadership, but unfortunately, the union we’re compelled to hire as our “representatives” doesn’t value our personal liberties. Ten teachers in California have had enough. We’re suing the California Teachers Association and its affiliate, the National Education Association, to obtain freedom from compelled support for unionism.

Ironically, the union is using our involuntary dues monies to fund the court battle against us.

When unions started, at the turn of the last century, their united support for individual rights was needed and welcomed. Sadly, unions have become what they used to fight – powerful, entrenched organizations more focused on self-preservation and pushing their political agenda than on protecting the rights of individual members.

In education, the behavior of unions is even more horrifying because, in addition to the obliteration of teachers’ constitutional rights, our students suffer even greater injustices as the unions use their ill-gotten billions to promote political policies that often create negative consequences inside and outside of the classroom.

The union is currently taking a stand that puts the rights of sex offenders and kidnappers over the rights and safety of school children. NEA, the largest, most powerful teachers’ union in America, came out against a bipartisan bill that would prohibit convicted sex offenders, murderers and kidnappers from working in schools. I don’t believe in allowing these people in our classrooms and neither do the teachers I know; however, we’re all forced to financially support this dangerous and shocking position.

Unions continue to tell the public that teachers who disagree with their politics have no real complaints because they can “opt out.” Tragically, what they neglect to mention is that we can only opt out of the portion of the dues the union decides are political. We are not permitted to opt out of the collective bargaining portion of the dues, yet much of collective bargaining is political.

Every penny on the bargaining table is provided by hardworking taxpayers, yet, shockingly, unions force teachers to fund policies that are often harmful to taxpayers and the children they’re working so hard to support.

Teachers who exercise their right to opt out of the unions’ acknowledged political dues are still required to pay approximately $650 annually for highly political collective bargaining. In return, fee payers are bullied, treated as outsiders, labeled “nonmembers” and lose all “rights of membership” including liability insurance (although they’re still paying for the liability insurance of the union hierarchy). Fee payers lose their voting privileges within collective bargaining, and the right to serve within union leadership. So, although they pay full collective bargaining fees, they’re completely voiceless.

Because of powerful collective-bargaining agreements with school districts, the union has control over teachers’ email and staff mailboxes. Unions censor and decide what communications teachers are able to send and receive, so it’s easy to control members by withholding vital information.

Teachers are often in the dark about how their money is being spent in the political process both inside and outside of collective bargaining. When dissenting teachers try to share liberating information with their colleagues through district communication channels, those teachers are subject to discipline by district administration.

The unions also use fear to influence teachers into supporting union causes. Teachers are subjected to constant political manipulation during mandatory staff meetings at which they’re strong-armed on issues such as opposing school choice for children. Then the unions spend tens of millions of teacher-funded dollars, and use the pressured assistance of teachers as political “boots on the ground” to help block the passage of student-friendly ideas like vouchers. Any teachers who find the courage to share opposing views on union political issues are subject to intimidation and shamed into silence.

When teachers ask how they can avoid supporting the union’s political agenda, they’re told to check a box on their union membership form. This “check the box” system was dreamed up by the unions many years ago when they added an additional $20 “contribution” to teachers’ union dues, which already average $1,000 a year. Checking this box gives teachers a mere $20 annual refund from the union’s “voluntary” PAC funds.

This sleight of hand is confusing many teachers who honestly believe they’re opting out of union politics by checking a box when, in fact, they’re still giving approximately $350 of their annual dues toward the union’s admitted nonrepresentational political agenda, and another $650 a year in mostly political collective bargaining fees. Since many of these teachers have moral beliefs and fiscal standards that place them on the exact opposite side union politics, this practice is unethical and shady at best.

Rebecca Friedrichs is an Orange County educator and one of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Orange County Register and appears here with permission from the author.

Teachers Unions Reforming Themselves?

Not going to happen. If change comes, it will be from the outside.

Mike Stryer is a former teacher and co-founder of NewTLA, a union reform group that came into being in 2010. One of its goals was to get the powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles to adopt a sweeping education reform agenda. Now Vice President for Programs at Teach Plus, he wrote “A Crossroads for Teacher Unions?” for Huffington Post last week.

As teacher unions step up their calls to stop the “corporate agenda” in education and to confront the “privatization” movement, there is a far more real and serious threat facing teacher unions. The threat comes not from billionaires or charter schools or philanthropists. Rather, it comes from many teacher unions’ difficulty to modernize and reshape themselves in the midst of profound demographic changes of their members. At stake are the relevance and even existence of teacher unions–a force that historically has played such a vital role in American public school education.

Stryer believes that the younger union members aren’t going to put up with their stodgy old out-of-touch, anti-reform elders.

Teacher unions and teacher union leaders that continue to ignore the voices of the new majority of early career teachers do so at their own peril. The choice should be clear: modernize and reshape teacher unions in ways that professionalize teaching and attract early career teachers or become a disappearing force that plays a marginal role in American public education.

I wish he was right, but history has shown otherwise. Attempting to placate younger teachers and the general public, union leaders have for some time now been pledging to engage in reform, raise teaching standards and, in general, bend and change with the times. But when push comes to shove, the same old agenda remains in place.

It is true that younger teachers as a rule are not much interested in the traditional union agenda and the more idealistic ones like Mr. Stryer are downright opposed to it. And, yes, the bulk of the activists are indeed older members. But the young eventually become older, and inevitably the traditional “protect my job and perks at all costs” mentality kicks in. Tenure, seniority, the step-and-column salary scale and loopy dismissal statutes become infinitely more enticing as the years go by.

Long time teacher union watchdog, Mike Antonucci, addresses the union reform issue in “Let’s All See the Plan.” While praising NewTLA’s efforts, he writes,

The teacher union reform field is littered with the bodies of those who sought to alter the union’s primary mission – protecting teachers – and found themselves ousted in favor of challengers who promised to get tough with administrators.

Terry Moe, another veteran teacher union critic, writes “Will Young People Reform Teachers Unions? Dream On.”

The argument that young teachers are going to transform the unions is just as fanciful, and just as wrong…. Unions are unions. They are in the business of protecting jobs: that is why their members join, that is what their members expect them to do, and that is what they actually do. If you expect them to do something else–to represent children or to represent the public interest–you will be wrong ….

Not to say that teachers unions are invulnerable. In fact, they are very much embattled. But the offensive is coming from the outside, not from the union rank-and-file. For example,

  • According to a recent Gallup Poll – continuing a trend – twice as many Americans think that teachers unions hurt rather than help public schools. (But it’s important to note that teachers’ opinions of their unions are not moving in the same direction. In a 2013 Education Next poll, 56 percent of teachers claim that their unions have a positive effect on their local schools. In 2011, the number was 58 percent, an insignificant difference.)
  • The right-to-work movement is gaining steam. After successes in Michigan and Indiana, the National Right to Work Foundation is trying to end forced unionism in Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
  • If successful, the Students Matter lawsuit in California will remove the tenure, seniority and arcane dismissal statutes from the education code and render them unconstitutional, thus making it easier to get rid of incompetent and criminal teachers while outlawing seniority as a method of teacher retention.
  • If the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case gets to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could conceivably end forced unionism in all fifty states.
  • As technology-based education becomes more prevalent, fewer teachers will be needed.
  • There has been a steady political shift. Whereas unions historically could rely on across-the-board support from Democrats, many current reform leaders are left-of-center folks who have come to realize that the unions do not act in the best interest of children.
  • Parent groups are becoming more influential. Typically led by mothers, these organizations are fed up with the status quo, and are demanding reform in cities and towns nationwide.

Yes, change will come, but don’t wait for teachers or their unions to reform themselves. Ain’t gonna happen. As Terry Moe says, “Don’t expect a cat to bark.”

What about NewTLA?

Launched with a full head of steam in 2010, they ceased to exist just two years later.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Union opt-out campaigns log incremental gains, but two court cases could change the rules

Whenever anyone suggests that public sector unions are forcing their members to make political contributions, the unions retort that the contributions are strictly voluntary. Technically speaking, this is true, but the tedious process of opting out of making political contributions is a powerful deterrent.

The California Teachers Association, for example, allow their members to become “agency fee payers,” which means they no longer belong to the CTA, do not have to make political contributions, and merely need to pay their “fair share” of the collecting bargaining expenses from which they still presumably benefit. But even if a CTA member has served written notice and been given agency fee payer status, they still will have 100% of the regular union dues withheld from their paycheck as full members; about $1,200 per year. They then have to request, in writing, between Sept. 1st and Nov. 15th every year, that the CTA issue them a check for the portion of their dues that was used for political spending.

This amounts to a rigged system that ensures that very few CTA members bother to opt-out, and even fewer manage to consistently recover their political contributions. Once a CTA member achieves agency fee payer status, they have to actively request a refund of their political contributions every year. But they are permanently excluded from the ability to participate in CTA leadership elections, and they are permanently excluded from being able to have the liability insurance coverage provided to full CTA members. While good alternative coverage can be found from reputable providers at a competitive price, this is yet another deterrent to choosing to become an agency fee payer. And, not insignificantly, those teachers who opt to become agency fee payers face harassment by those among their colleagues who enthusiastically support the CTA’s politics.

A few months ago the California Public Policy Center, in partnership with the California Teachers Empowerment Network, launched the California Teacher Freedom project. If you are a member of the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers, or the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and you want to opt-out of paying political dues, go to and you will get very specific instructions.

But why should the process be this difficult in the first place? How many people are going to go to this much trouble?

This is a rigged system. Even if an “opt-out” information campaign were spectacularly successful, the CTA’s political machine would still be intact. And those who opted out would not be participating, collectively, in some equally potent, countervailing political machine that might oppose CTA politics. The vast majority of CTA members would still be feeding the machine, year after year, a machine that fights virtually all significant bipartisan education reforms. And even those who had opted-out would still be paying a net dues equal to about 70% of full dues, money that is deployed in soft political spending and “educational” campaigns. The CTA collects and spends well over $300 million per year.

Because the process is tedious and invites retaliation, while leaving the CTA’s nearly omnipotent political machine completely intact, helping individual teachers opt-out of paying their political dues is about as “incremental” as incremental can get. But while incremental reformers search for ideas that may attract a viable political coalition, there are cases unfolding in the courts that merit close attention. Two of the most promising are in California.

In Friedrichs vs the CTA, as reported earlier this year in an excellent analysis by Peter Scheer entitled “New 1st amendment case poses existential threat to public employee unions,” a favorable ruling could not only convert all political dues from “opt-out” to “opt-in” (i.e., the union would have to annually elicit voluntary contributions from members), but it may also call into question whether or not any dues could be forcibly withheld. Sheer writes:

“The theory of the lawsuit filed, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is that an opt out procedure is constitutionally defective because it compels employees to make a loan to the union for its political activities, and because even the unions’ supposedly nonpolitical activities–such as opposition to charter schools or support for higher taxes to pay for pension benefits–are fraught with political and ideological choices that are objectionable to some employees.”

The other case, Vergara vs. California, could fundamentally change public education in California. According to the fact sheet posted on the website of an organization supporting the lawsuit, Students Matter, a favorable ruling would fundamentally change policies with respect to teacher tenure, dismissals, seniority, and evaluations, all areas where union work-rules have prevented effective management of public schools.

There are a lot of fine teachers in California’s public schools who are disillusioned with the unions they are forced to financially support. They should review the information and instructions compiled by the California Teacher Freedom project and consider becoming agency fee payers (political objectors) or even religious objectors. But they should also take heart from these court cases. Fundamental changes could be coming.

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Ed Ring is the Executive Director of the California Public Policy Center.

California Teachers Silenced By Teachers Union

Throughout our nation, teachers are being trained to combat bullying within our schools and social media. It’s ironic that this movement is led by teachers unions, which have been bullying independent-minded teachers for decades.

In California, where I’m a public school teacher, union bullying is enshrined in state law. The law requires that all teachers in public schools pay compulsory “agency fees” to support the agenda of the teachers unions — the most powerful political force in the state — thus allowing the union to dominate and skew political dialogue.

This system requires me to pay hundreds of dollars each year to support union activities that stand in direct opposition to my personal and political beliefs. That’s why I joined a group of other public-school teachers in a lawsuit filed April 30 in a California federal court, asserting that forced union fees violate our core First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

In 2011, the California Teachers Association collected over $191 million in tax-free revenue, with more than $178 million coming from dues from teachers like me. The union has used this money to become the highest-spending interest group in the state, pushing controversial positions inside and outside of collective bargaining.

Unions have deployed massive expenditures on debatable matters related to education policy and state spending, and taken positions on issues that have nothing to do with public education, such as The Affordable Care Act.

In 2012, California voters were offered Proposition 32, which sought to prohibit unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The unions launched a $60 million attack against the measure, financed (ironically) by fees deducted from the salaries of public employees. The campaign falsely claimed that without compulsory fees, public employees would lose their right to bargain for fair wages, and return to substandard labor practices of an earlier era. As a result, the unions defeated Proposition 32, just as they’ve defeated past initiatives seeking to scale back compulsory union fees.

In 2008, I attended a California Teachers Association Leadership Conference. One brave teacher stated that she disagreed with the union’s political agenda, was offended she had to pay for it, and wanted to know how to make her voice heard. A union board member responded harshly, intimating that all members who disagree with the CTA’s political ideology are bigots. The room fell into stunned silence; no one dared retort. Interestingly, a class offered that weekend to help teachers combat problems on campus was “Bullying 101.”

This brought back memories of 1993, when I refused to support my union’s efforts to defeat a voucher initiative offering parents choice in their children’s schools (while saving millions in taxes). My union representative berated me in front of colleagues, calling me a “radical right-winger.” It’s hardly “radical” to believe no Americans should be forced to support political causes that contradict their beliefs, or that parents should be empowered with school choice.

The problem is obvious. Teachers unions have used state power to entrench themselves in our political system, extracting compulsory fees to buy influence with lawmakers, who then allow unions to abuse their power at the expense of teachers and other public employees. Dissenting teachers feel bullied and paralyzed.

Free speech and free association reign supreme in our Constitution. The principal author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, said, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Recognizing that compulsory union fees violate the First Amendment won’t abolish unions or prevent them from engaging in collective bargaining. It will provide unionized laborers their individual rights to free speech.

The NEA 2012 Handbook states, “Bullying creates an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target,” and asserts the union believes “education employees should be protected from workplace bullying.” Yet the greatest power imbalance is between union bullies and individual teachers. The oppression is so severe, we have a nation of silenced teachers who meekly submit to their unions’ controls, and are forced to pay for them! Teachers, parents, and taxpayers must stand together and demand a long overdue emancipation from entrenched union power, financed through compulsory fees paid by the very teachers the unions are hired to protect.

Rebecca Friedrichs is an Orange County educator and one of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This originally appeared as a guest column in the San Diego Union Tribune and is published here with permission from the author.