Unions – The Biggest Bullies in the School House
There has been a great deal of public attention on the problem of bullying in our public schools. Issues such as possible causes as well as appropriate administrative and legal remedies have been hotly debated across the country by educators, parents and politicians with varying responses.
The focus of bullying heretofore has been limited to students. This narrow perspective misses the most egregious culprits: the unions. The teachers’ union is the focus of this article.
Teachers are compelled as a condition of employment to join the state as well as the national union and to pay an annual membership assessment of about one thousand dollars. The monies are used to fund collective bargaining, purchase liability insurance and support political causes and candidates that reinforce the union’s power and influence.
In California, these have amounted to massive sums that were used to defeat ballot initiatives inimical to the teachers’ union’s stranglehold on education. The contributions have funded the campaigns of strongly liberal Democrat candidates and to defeat measures against abortion rights and gay marriage. Germane to our thesis, this liberal bias does not reflect the fact that teachers tend to be conservative.
Most teachers who enter the profession are devoted to the education of young minds. They have the best interests of students as their foremost priority. Unions, in contrast, operate out of self-interest. Their top priority is the maintenance of union power, not the welfare of the teachers or students.
Unions strongly oppose any threats to that power such as ballot initiatives in support of school vouchers, charter schools, opportunity scholarships or Education Savings Accounts. They will marshal vast sums of money to quash them. Funded by forced union dues, teachers who dare to speak out against the union’s political positions are subject to intimidation. Most choose to remain silent rather than face censure and harassment.
The California Teachers Union spent $32 million to defeat Proposition 75, the measure which would have required members to consent to their dues being used for political purposes. Of the $50 million unions spent to defeat Proposition 32, a measure to prohibit the use of payroll deductions for political purposes, more than $20 million came from the annual dues paid to the CTA by its 325,000 members.
It is the forced support of radical organizations such as ACORN, People for the American Way, Media Matters, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU that support abortion and gay marriage that prompted Rebecca Friedrichs, a 27-year veteran elementary school teacher with deep Christian convictions, and nine of her colleagues to file a lawsuit against the CTA and the 3.5 million-member National Education Association for violating their rights of free speech and free association.
The lawsuit is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after Judge Josephine Staton reviewed the case and ruled that a lower court lacked the authority to overturn a Supreme Court precedent. Friedrichs is hopeful her case will be forwarded to the United States Supreme Court.
The legal arguments of her brief have interesting precedents. In the standard organization, membership is on a voluntary basis. In unions, it is not. Tremendous pressure is applied to employees to become members. The level of intimidation and censure is difficult to resist.
Public employees in the federal government were barred from organizing prior to an executive order by President John F. Kennedy. In California, it was Ronald Reagan who granted that right to state employees and Jerry Brown, to teachers.
Non-members are required to pay union dues, called agency fees, because they benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining efforts. This was clarified in a 1977 ruling by the Supreme Court, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which stated the funds were precluded from being used for ideological or political purposes.
Reality differs from legal dictum. The National Education Association is the largest single contributor to the Democrat party, state and federal elections and liberal causes. Members’ dues are used primarily to expand the union’s political power and influence.
The July 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn opened the door to the merit of the complaint by Friedrichs et al. SCOTUS ruled that it was unconstitutional to require non-union Illinois home health care workers to pay union dues.
Justice Samuel Alito added that “no person in the country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” His implicit meaning that public employee unions are inherently political organizations suggests that SCOTUS will look favorably on Friedrichs’ complaint.
There is now a zero tolerance policy toward bullying in public schools. The policy should be extended to the biggest bully of all. An unlikely David to do battle with the union Goliath to hold them to the same standard, we wish the diminutive Mrs. Friedrichs well.
About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.