WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three cheers for the U.S. Supreme Court! In a recent 5-4 decision, the Justices sided with liberty when freeing Illinois home health aides from compulsory union dues in Harris v. Quinn.
The only thing better would have been a broad decision putting an end to the tyranny of forced unionism altogether. My fellow teacher plaintiffs and I will attempt to give the justices that opportunity soon in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case challenging compulsory union dues for all public employees.
Ever since a flawed 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, states have been free to require all public employees to pay collective bargaining fees to unions. This exception to the First Amendment has been tolerated in order to keep “labor peace,” make employees pay their “fair share,” and avoid “free-loaders.” Yet, as Justice Alito made clear in his decision for the majority in Harris, compulsory union dues don’t further labor “peace” and aren’t essential to collective bargaining. Unless compulsory dues are essential to some “compelling interest,” the state cannot sweep aside individuals’ First Amendment rights of free speech and free association by coercing public employees to support union causes with which they fundamentally disagree.
Yet, because of Abood, twenty-six states force employees to pay up to and above a thousand dollars a year to support unions with whom they often have deep religious, political, and philosophical differences. The Court says that individuals may only opt out of paying for overtly political union activities, but in truth, collective bargaining activities are often just as political as the overt lobbying activities. In addition, since unions use their collective billions to help elect union-sympathetic candidates at local and national levels, most collective bargaining situations have union allies on both sides of the table. The taxpayer, who is paying the bill, is not represented at all. This is unfair to everyone, yet dissenting employees are forced to fund these questionable practices.
Though Abood was supposed to further labor “peace,” it’s had the unintended consequence of placing employees at the mercy of abusive union bosses who have no incentive to please their members because millions in dues flow to the unions regardless of their job performance. Abood has elevated unions to imperial leaders who use the dues they collect from working class members to fund their political whims while undermining the political interests of many of the members who are paying the bill. The old saying, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” describes perfectly what’s occurring in public sector unions today.
The members should be the employers of the unions, set the standards, and insist on what’s best for the membership. Thanks to Abood, the unions call the shots and use their free flow of cash to elect union friendly officials, defeat common sense reforms, and run rough shod over the members paying the bills. This undermines “labor peace” for dissenting employees, who are often ostracized for speaking against union policies. The price of standing in opposition to union politics is high and many dissenting members pay their forced dues only with reluctance. If Abood weren’t standing in the way, dissenting employees would be free to choose whether or not to support their union. For their part, unions would have an incentive to once again serve the interests of their members.
Union leaders in education are so self-serving that they attack anyone willing to work toward changes that would improve education for America’s children. The Obama Administration’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently came out in support of a lawsuit designed to reform tenure. Predictably, the unions turned on Duncan — even though he’s part of the most pro-union administration in the last fifty years. The National Education Association (NEA) called for Mr. Duncan’s resignation and the American Federation of Teacher’s president, Randi Weingarten, accused Duncan of “adding to the polarization.”
There was nothing polarizing about Mr. Duncan’s statement; he was correct, but power amassed through Abood gives unions the ability to torment and punish anyone who disagrees with their narrow political agenda. Arne Duncan is just the latest victim in a long line of decent people who have been shot down and silenced by union oppression.
If our lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, makes it to the Supreme Court, we will ask the Justices to return freedom to public sector employees and overturn Abood. Justice Kagan in her dissenting opinion in Harris stated: “The Abood rule is deeply entrenched, and is the foundation for not tens or hundreds, but thousands of contracts between unions and governments across the Nation. Our precedent about precedent, fairly understood and applied, makes it impossible for this Court to reverse that decision.”
I urge Justice Kagan and her fellow dissenters to consider Abood from the perspective of the injured employees. If thousands of government contracts (affecting multiple millions of innocent Americans) are the source of unjust coercion, political manipulation, and workplace bullying, we need to revisit Abood, not reflexively leave it in place. As an American personally impacted by abusive union oppression, I urge our Justices to consider our plea. Colonial Americans gave their lives to fight against this very sort of tyranny and provide us with unparalleled liberties. The very least we can do is fight to protect them.