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.
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.
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.
This past Wednesday, November 13, 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard the initial arguments in the case Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall. The case of Mulhall, a 40-year employee of Mardi Gras in Hollywood, Florida, challenged the use of a Neutrality Agreement by Unite Here to force unionize Mardi Gras employees. A Neutrality Agreement eliminates the preferred standard of use of “secret ballot elections” to determine if employees want union representation, and in its place, institutes the insidious process known as Card Check. The focus of Mulhall is whether a signed Neutrality Agreement was lawfully obtained from Mardi Gras without bribery or extortion by Unite Here, which is prohibited by Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act. Unite Here contends the signatures were lawfully obtained, because no money changed hands; however, Mardi Gras and Mulhall believe there were direct benefits or “consideration” received in exchange for the signed agreement.
Unfortunately, after reading the transcripts of the oral arguments made by the attorney for Respondent Mulhall, it appears he has overreached. Perhaps most disappointing, counsel’s arguments did not succinctly and in “plain language” expose the extortion tactics utilized by Unite Here to force Mardi Gras to sign the Neutrality Agreement. These actions resulted in the use of Card Check to force unionize Mardi Gras employees. The attorney appeared to overreach when he suggested that the law bans all pre-recognition agreements whether obtained through mutual agreement or extortion. Additionally, his argument as to whether a benefit was received by the union and/or the employer solely revolved around the union’s support of a gaming license for Mardi Gras. He glossed over the true argument for rescinding the agreement, the use of extortion by the union, which ultimately provided benefits that could be quantified monetarily for both parties. Instad of hitting a home run, his argument resulted in a Mixed Reaction From the Justices. This was a missed opportunity to expose big labor’s ruthless tactics for what they are, coercive forms of extortion from which both parties benefit.
Further, the attorney missed the opportunity to elaborate on the devastating affects that Corporate Campaigns and Death by a Thousand Cuts strategies imposed by big labor have on an employer. Corporate Campaigns take advantage of a National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) loophole, allowing unions to circumvent the secret ballot election when there is mutual agreement of recognition by the union and the employer. The key word being mutual. Webster’s Dictionary defines mutual as, “Something shared in common…” — such as mutual respect. The use of Corporate Campaigns against employers, through use of the misnamed “Neutrality Agreement,” to eliminate the secret ballot election is anything but mutual and certainly does not involve respect. In fact, the most striking thing about the Neutrality Agreement is its utter lack of neutrality. The “agreement” is forced upon employers by big labor threats. Upon entering the agreement, employers are forced into a “card check” scenario, and in return, receives the agreement of the labor union not to make good on its threats.
Corporate Campaigns, as described in my first book, The Devil at My Doorstep, are designed to financially and psychologically cripple an employer, coercing the employer into capitulating and signing the one-sided Neutrality Agreement. Corporate campaigns are ruthless wars waged against unsuspecting employers by big labor bosses who have decided the employer is a financial target, not because of employee abuses, but rather because of the potential membership dues and big payday for big labor. Corporate campaigns are initiated on the disingenuous premise that the employees have invited them to town. This is rarely true. The unions are often nothing more than Uninvited Interlopers, whose services have not been requested by any employee of the organization.
The preceding recital of the intent of Corporate Campaigns and the resulting benefits for both unions and employers, supplemented by real life stories of such coercion (such as those chronicled in The Devil at Our Doorstep), overwhelmingly proves that extortion and bribery regularly exist within these attacks by big labor. The Supreme Court needs to grasp that Corporate Campaigns are vicious scams designed to “shame” employers into signing the Neutrality Agreement The extreme costs incurred in avoiding such campaigns overwhelmingly prove a benefit for both parties just as it does in the Mulhall case. My company would have saved almost $1 Million dollars in attorney, operational and other associated costs, while the SEIU would have not only saved the costs in prosecuting the campaign against my company, but would have been the beneficiary of dues collected from the forced unionization of thousands of employees in a relatively short period of time.
Employees and employers across the country can only hope the Justices do their due diligence in the Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall case, and outlaw the imposition of the so-called Neutrality Agreement, benefiting both parties through Organizing by Extortion. The U.S. Supreme Court Has An Opportunity to Protect Fundamental Freedoms and set the future course for true, voluntary union recognition for all employees. Their decision will serve to protect workers like Martin Mulhall, because until they do, big labor bosses will not take no for an answer.
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.