Education

This Teacher of the Year Is Suing Her Own Union

A teacher is suing the California Teachers Association for taking educators’ money but reportedly giving them no political voice or representation in return.

Bhavini Bhakta, a California educator who was laid off shortly after receiving her school’s teacher of the year Award in 2009, never planned on becoming an activist. She got involved in education reform after being laid off six times in the first eight years of her career as an elementary school teacher in the Pasadena suburbs, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

Bhakta is a plaintiff in Bain v. CTA, a case challenging the dues structure of unions as a violation of the First Amendment. The suit aims to restore voting rights on union matters to agency fee payers, who pay for representational activities but opt out of paying for lobbying and political activities.

“The state union forcibly takes our money and uses it to misrepresent us. They’re not serving the teachers on the ground,” she said in an interview with Free Beacon Sunday. “They’re using my money for their own purposes.”

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Bhakta briefly became a fee payer but was still unable to weigh in on local matters. She returned to paying full dues in order to get her vote back, and is currently not a member of CTA. The California Teachers Association is “political without any kind of representation for its membership … on all fronts I was silenced as a teacher,” she said.

The CTA has accused the plaintiffs in Bain of being funded by corporate interests.

“What the Bain plaintiffs were asking for would have represented a significant and unprecedented violation of teachers’ First Amendment rights to democratically associate in a labor union,” the union said in a 2015 press release.

Bhakta says she is not anti-union and remains on good terms with her local union representatives, saying she believes that “organized labor is good at the local level because it is functional and they listen to their members.”

Bain v. CTA is the second major court challenge that the union has faced recently.

In 2014, Friedrichs v. CTA sought to overturn the precedent allowing government agencies to mandate union membership as a condition of employment. The case went to the Supreme Court, which reached a 4-4 deadlock after Justice Scalia’s death, upholding the precedent established by the high court in Abood v. Detroit (1977) in the unions’ favor. Several cases challenging Abood have been filed since to the Supreme Court, and many hope that Justice Gorsuch will break the tie.

Bhakta said she was “disappointed” by the Friedrichs decision, but regrets the nature of labor disputes in education even more. “It’s a shame that we have to go a legal [route] when this could just be solved by them talking to their members,” she said.

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