August 12, 2014

CTA v. teachers’ First Amendment rights

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

Mike Antonucci has a goldmine of inside information about teacher unions at the Education Intelligence Report. Among the gems is the California Teacher Association’s plans for responding to the Supreme Court’s eventual invalidation of “agency shop fee” laws that allow the union to garnish teacher paychecks without their consent. Agency shop fees are calculated as union dues minus what the union is willing to admit it spends on politics – a tiny fraction of the actual total because all public employee union collective bargaining is political.  The CTA has 295,000 active members and steals agency shop fees from 29,000 teachers who are not members of the union.

Californians have made three attempts to enact Paycheck Protection – a law that requires the union to obtain actual consent from teachers before docking their paychecks.  All three initiatives failed and the CTA’s report proudly touts the amount it spent to defeat these initiatives with teacher salary dollars:

Proposition 226 (1998):
Proponents spent $6.4 million
Opponents spent $22 million, of which CTA spent $6.5 million

Proposition 75 (2005):
Proponents spent $5.8 million
Opponents spent $44 million, of which CTA spent $32.2 million

Proposition 32 (2012):
Proponents spent $47.8 million
Opponents spent $65.3 million, of which CTA spent $21.3 million

All told, CTA spent $60 million in just one state, in just 15 years, to deprive teachers of their First Amendment right to dissent.  That $60 million could have paid the salaries of 884 teachers (average teacher salary in California is $67,871); or purchased 857,424 high school textbooks (average cost of a high school textbook is $70).

The $60 million spent opposing paycheck protection laws is just the tip of the iceberg, because the union also pays lawyers to oppose dissenting teachers in court.  But the CTA’s gravy train may be heading into its last station.  In 2010, the Supreme Court held in Knox v. SEIU that unions could not garnish employee paychecks for mid-year dues assessments without the workers’ affirmative consent.  Then, this past June, in Harris v. Quinn, the Court recognized that earlier cases allowing agency shop fees for public employee unions stood on shaky foundations.  While Harris did not present a factual situation that would allow the Court to overrule those cases, the CTA’s slide show is entitled “Not if, but when,” acknowledging that the judiciary is poised to uphold dissenting workers’ First Amendment rights at long last.  One of the most promising follow-up cases is Friedrichs v. CTA, pending in the Ninth Circuit.  Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other teachers are suing the CTA to assert their rights to keep their salaries.  She penned an op-ed in the Orange County Register explaining her reasons for taking on the powerful union bosses, and to highlight National Employee Freedom Week.

PLF has long fought for the rights of dissenters to refrain from associating with or subsidizing unions and other organizations (such as state bar associations) with which they disagree.

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