OP-ED: Teachers Unions Don’t Represent All Teachers

As reported here, 10 current members of the California Teachers Association (CTA) are suing that labor union, a state-level affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), alleging, among other things, that “compulsory unionism is a violation of (their) constitutional right to freedom of speech and association.”

Rebecca Friedrichs, who has worked as a public school teacher in Orange County for about 26 years, and her co-plaintiffs, all of them public school teachers from various California cities, appear to feel that neither NEA, CTA, nor their respective local union affiliates, represent them or their views when it comes to both contract negotiations and political activities.

Current and former LBUSD teachers are members of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) which is also a local affiliate of both CTA and NEA. Like all other local teachers unions in their own Districts, TALB is the exclusive bargaining entity for LBUSD teachers. TALB members pay for their membership through union dues, a considerable portion of which is, in turn, sent on to both the CTA and the NEA.

According to the dues page at TALB’s website, the top level of members (or Category 1) currently pays $1066 per year in membership dues, $641 of which is sent on to CTA and $183 of which is sent on to NEA. There appear to be four other membership Categories which have lesser dues levels.

I know several, very hard-working people who either are, or were, full time teachers at LBUSD. One of them is Linda Conn, who agreed to be identified and to offer her thoughts about this topic on the record. Linda taught grades K-5 at LBUSD from 1988-2013. During her 25-year teaching career, she says she became so fed up with TALB’s representation, political activities, and dues structures that she eventually retired several years sooner than she had originally intended.

Linda explains that when she started her teaching career, no one at either LBUSD or TALB ever asked her if she wanted to be a union member, she said she was simply informed that dues would automatically be deducted from her paycheck and electronically routed to TALB. Linda said that as a newer teacher she was often asked to walk precincts or staff phone banks for political candidates and causes which she did not personally support but, as a newer member, she felt she should not “rock the boat.”

Some of Linda’s sentiments seem to mirror most of those which Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs have expressed. In her letter I linked earlier, Ms. Friedrichs writes:

We thought the (school) employees were the bosses, so why have union officials become so tyrannical? Because of a flawed 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, unions collect billions in forced dues as a condition of employment; therefore, they have no incentive to meet the needs or desires of employees. Workers have been relegated to cash cows.

This lack of member accountability often breeds widespread corruption. Unions have used their ill-gotten billions to fund politically motivated collective bargaining and a one-sided political agenda that is morally and fiscally offensive to many of the employees forced to fund it.

Billions indeed!

According to this source, from 2001-2011, the CTA took the top spot in statewide political contributions, donating over $118 billion to various political candidates and causes. That money comes from its roughly 325,000 members throughout the state. Members like Ms. Friedrichs and Ms. Conn, who soon came to dislike the way CTA was collecting and spending those funds.    

Should this lawsuit make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which seems very likely, SCOTUS may well find against the CTA and, if so, this could mandate significant changes in the way teachers unions, and perhaps all other public sector labor unions, collect their dues and participate in political activities.

On a side note, as a retired member of a public sector union in Long Beach, I strongly believe that all employees in either the public or private sectors should be able to bargain collectively for the best wages and working conditions they can receive from their employers. That assumes, however, employees are joining unions and paying union dues on a truly voluntary basis and have the ready ability to avoid paying that percentage of dues that supports the union’s political activities should they choose to do so.   

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