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Rebecca Friedrichs’ argument could alter landscape of public employee unions
By Eric Heinz
San Clemente resident and Anaheim teacher Rebecca Friedrichs read her arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in her effort to abolish compulsory union dues for public employees, specifically teachers.
Friedrichs argues her free speech is infringed upon by unions as they lobby for political parties and divisive issues. She also argues the unions do not adequately protect teachers from unfair punitive measures.
The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is not expected to receive a decision on the matter for about six months.
On Jan. 7, Friedrichs spoke to various national media outlets and the San Clemente Times during a conference call.
“As someone who has taught in the public schools for 28 years … in my view, every individual has the right to choose the organization that advocates on their behalf,” Friedrichs said. “I admire the history of unions and the spirit in which they were born. But in recent years, unions have become what they used to fight: powerful, entrenched organizations.”
Friedrichs said the things that unions bargained for made her job harder. New tenure laws, that protect teachers who have been employed for a certain number of years, make it difficult for struggling districts to bring in new teachers. In times of a budget crunch, teachers who are new or recently hired are typically the first to be laid off or fired, she said.
“When the unions push for higher salaries, it often means larger class sizes, which is a major problem in the school in which I teach,” Friedrichs said.
Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C., has been working with Friedrichs throughout the case.
“This is a case that seeks to reestablish the basic constitutional rights of teachers and other public employees to decide whether to join a union,” Pell said. “It’s important to note this does not challenge public employee unions’ right to collective bargaining; it focuses specifically on the funding mechanism, recognizing the free speech of individuals.”
Pell said the hope is unions will become more accountable to their members.
The case Friedrichs is trying to overturn is the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case in which the courts ruled teachers must be unionized and pay dues as well as all public employees.
Additional respondents to the case include school superintendents, California Deputy Attorney General Alexandra Robert Gordon, AG Kamala Harris and others.
Pell said when unions negotiate salaries for teachers or pensions for police officers, they may advocate for an organization that argues in which way public money may be spent.
On the California Teacher’s Association website, www.cta.org, the union has called the case “detrimental” and outlays its own arguments, stating the case is shifting the control of union influence to “wealthy special interests.” For the most part, the union defends its actions in supporting legislation that benefits public employees and that a ruling in Friedrichs’ favor would put an end to those efforts.
“Our work has created record wealth for an economic recovery that’s been everywhere but ordinary peoples’ wallets,” according to a statement on the website. “In addition, our schools and other public services have suﬀered.”
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been seen as the swing vote in the case. In a 1991 case, he was strongly in favor of keeping mandatory union dues for public employees, but reports on Wednesday, Jan. 13, stated he may be changing his view on the matter.
“There are 25 states that have already done away with compulsory dues, and the public employee unions in those states are able to collectively bargain on behalf of those employees without difficulty,” Pell said.
Should Friedrichs win the case, it’s likely there will be an effect on many unions as members who do not want to pay dues will pull out of their union.
“If we win, the California Teachers Association will continue to be the designated bargaining agent for teachers in California,” Pell said.
For more information and an updated schedule of hearings, visit www.supremecourt.gov.