Teachers and the Public Oppose Agency Fees Charged By Teachers Unions

By and 07/16/2015

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‘Th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns.” So said Mr. Dooley, the bartender created by cartoonist Finley Peter Dunne at the start of the 20th century. Those who follow the court today often say that nothing much has changed. Yet if the justices consider public opinion next term, it will be a straightforward decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case challenging the California “union shop” law that levies an agency fee on all teachers who refuse to join a union.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, defends the law on the grounds that “unions have a right to collect a fair share from the people [they] represent” regardless of whether the people want to pay, so that the AFT can “ensure that we’re able to speak for all workers.” But teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, the plaintiff, contends that collective bargaining is political speech. Thus the union shop denies her constitutional right of free speech by using her money to speak for purposes with which she disagrees.

The California law allows individual teachers to request a refund of the portion of their dues that is used to help elect candidates, lobby for union-sponsored legislation, or financially assist like-minded groups. Such costs run into hundreds of millions of dollars, nearly one-third of the dues unions ask school districts to collect. But each teacher still must pay the remaining two-thirds—the agency fee—that funds collective bargaining. Ms. Friedrichs argues that the act of bargaining with public officials is every bit as political as donating to political campaigns.

What does the public say? Judging by a recent survey, a plurality of the American public—indeed a decided majority of those with an opinion on the matter—seem to agree with Ms. Friedrichs. What’s more, an equally large share of teachers oppose the agency fees imposed upon them by California and about half of all states.

Please continue reading this article on the website of the Wall Street Journal, where it was published on July 15, 2015 as “Even Teachers Are No Fans of Forced Union Payments.”

– Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West

Comment on this article
  • Gus Wynn says:

    Interesting notions but then couldn’t the same be said about government activity impinging on citizens’ free speech, or a large employer like Walmart impinging on employee speech, or a large association like the NRA or AARP, if their actions run counter to any one members’ speech?

    Take the Iraq War for example. I never wanted my tax dollars used for it because there was no evidence of WMD. Then, we found out the Bush administration had lied about everything, but I never got a refund, instead we buried thousands of soldiers.

    Or take something like the USDOE promoting Common Core. I disagree that kids should be benchmarked by age, and I can show research proving that kids do not all develop at the same pace. My free speech is being denied as my tax dollars are used for Arne Duncan’s propaganda.

    The AFT is bigger than some US states, so it’s easy to compare this to legislative decisions made against the wishes of citizens. Last year’s background check bill was a prime example, because 90% of Americans including Republicans and NRA members supported it, but had their free speech denied because 41 Senators kowtowed to the NRA’s elite leadership.

    If governments are exempt, let’s go instead to private sector examples, like Walmart who funds all kinds of political activity that runs counter to the speech of the minimum wage worker (as they hold their payroll taxes, no less). If we say employees have a choice to not work there, then why not say AFT members don’t have to be teachers anymore?

    With the AFT, we are talking about tiny minorities here, and most of them are incentivized by anti-labor institutions anyhow. So wouldn’t a decision against union fees trigger a landslide of similar “protections” in countless other institutions?

    Please let me know. If collective bargaining is free speech, why aren’t other “collective” activities, like signing petitions or membership in an organization?

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