SANTA ANA, Calif. – Nine other teachers and I filed a lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which argues compulsory unionism is a violation of our constitutional right to freedom of speech and association. We believe that workers should be able to decide for themselves – without fear or coercion – whether to pay dues to a union. Currently, we’re at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – just steps away from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although complete freedom from forced unionism can be provided only by the Supreme Court, there are a number of actions dissenting employees can take right now to free themselves from a portion of their dues.
That’s why I’m supporting National Employee Freedom Week, a coalition of 68 organizations in 40 states working to inform Americans about their freedom to opt out of their unions.
At the turn of the 20th century, unions provided a collective voice for the good of employees, but today, many employees feel trapped within public sector unions. The California Teachers Association has gotten so out of touch that union officials bully teachers (like the plaintiffs in our case) who dare to question union politics and policies.
We thought the 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.
They use state power to entrench themselves in our political system, extracting compulsory fees to buy influence with lawmakers, who then allow unions to abuse their power at the expense of teachers and other public employees. Dissenting employees feel abused and hopeless instead of protected and empowered.
In 1993, I refused to support a union attack on a common sense voucher initiative that would have given parents choice in education and saved millions in tax dollars. Instead of respecting my rights and opinion, my union representative called me a “radical right winger,” and bullied me in front of colleagues. What was radical about protecting taxpayers and desiring the best for my students and their families?
During the first 10 years of my career, I was an agency-fee payer, which means I paid 100 percent of collective bargaining dues but received a small rebate of the overtly political dues.
In 1999, I decided to join the union in hopes of fixing its problems from within. For three years, I served on my local union board and even attended the statewide CTA conference. I continually shared that many of the employees I represented were offended that our dues were spent on politics, and in fact, numerous union representatives from many districts agreed with me privately that CTA shouldn’t spend members’ dues on politics.
However, all of those representatives were afraid to speak up publicly because of severe intimidation from CTA’s top union bosses.
This culture of fear and intimidation made it clear I couldn’t change CTA from the inside, despite countless hours of unpaid effort. In 2012, I became an agency fee payer again, and in 2013, we filed our lawsuit.
If the Supreme Court accepts our case, we’ll ask the justices to overturn Abood and restore workers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association. In the meantime, there are actions disaffected union members can take right now.
In 24 states (called “right to work” states), employees can leave their unions entirely without any penalty. In the other states, employees can opt out of paying the portion of their dues that fund overt political spending. Conscientious and religious exemptions from union membership are also options in some cases.
Unions rarely publicize these freedoms and many union representatives have no idea how to help with the process.
Opt out windows are often restricted to one narrow period each year.
Therefore, there are millions of union members around the country who would like to opt out of their unions, but don’t know how or when to do so. This week, National Employee Freedom Week, we’re highlighting workers’ rights and offering employees the information and support they need to gain back a portion of their money and voice.
Reprinted with permission from the Orange County Register.