California courtrooms—site of a major victory for school reformers against teachers unions’ defense of tenure—could soon be home to a big debate over employee rights.
An education reform group (along with four public schoolteachers) has sued the state’s two teachers unions, affiliated with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). EdSource reports on the case, known as Bain v. California Teachers Association:
In the lawsuit, the teachers focus only on the 35 to 40 percent of their dues payments that are used for political purposes, including donations to candidates and lobbying for legislation in Sacramento.
Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech.
Teachers, like all unionized public employees, have what are called “Hudson rights” to object to paying for union political activity even if they live in a non-right-to-work state like California. (These rights compare to private-sector “Beck rights” and were also codified by a Supreme Court case.)
But unions make exercising Hudson rights extremely difficult by controlling access to certain benefits and privileging members in negotiations with the state pension authority, the lawsuit claims. Dissenting “Hudson objectors” also have to pay so-called “agency fees” or be fired (at least in California and other non-right-to-work states).
The teachers allege that this is unfair, and they want to be able to participate in the union process without funding its political agendas. It’s a reasonable request that has wide support nationally. Polling shows that a similar private-sector provision in the Employee Rights Act has 84 percent public support, including 85 percent support among union households.
But don’t count on teachers unions allowing teachers these freedoms without a fight. Randi Weingarten of the AFT responded to the suit by taking potshots at the education reform group that helped file the claims.