Though Rebecca Friedrichs says her upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case is about choice, union leaders and even the Obama administration argue it’s really about hurting worker freedom.
“The people who don’t want to sign up for those to pay dues, they actually benefit from those, the work that these unions are doing ,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said on PBS. “And so they want to be able to be free-riders, you know, pay nothing, but get all the benefits.”
To Friedrichs, who teaches out of Buena Park, Calif., and the nine other teachers involved in the case, it’s not about being “free-riders” but about having the choice not to support an organization with which they fundamentally disagree.
“I am not anti-union at all, I came from a union family,” Friedrichs told The Daily Caller News Foundation in April. “I am against forced unions.”
It all started when Friedrichs learned the union culture benefited its members at the expense of the students. Unable to change the culture from within, she tried leaving the California Teachers Association (CTA) only to find she would be forced to continue paying into it. With nowhere else to go she sued and after a tough legal fight, the highest court decided to hear her case.
“Unions, like any group, should have to earn members,” she added.
Workers are allowed to leave their union, but in many states, they are still required to pay regular fees. Since public school teachers are government workers, a verdict in favor of Friedrichs is likely to allow all government workers to stop paying into their respective unions.
“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families,” several union leaders declared in a joint statement. “It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety.”
The statement was signed by leadership at AFSCME, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union. The union leaders all argued the lawsuit would damage the freedom of firefighters, teachers, nurses and first-responders to join together.
Freedom, however, is exactly what Friedrichs and the other teachers say they want.
Though it is unclear what the Supreme Court will eventually rule, a verdict in favor of Friedrichs would likely not ban public sector workers from forming or joining a union. It could, however, give workers the right to choose whether they want to.
This though, unions argue, is still unfair because workers who opt out of paying unions still benefit from them. The argument is commonly used by unions and their supporters but James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, argues in a fact sheet that the claim is very misleading.
Though unions are required to represent everyone if they file to be an Exclusive Representative for a workplace, they can choice to be a Member Only union which means they only have to represent dues paying members. The problem is, being a Member Only union would mean that other unions could try to organize the same workplace. It would also mean unions wouldn’t be guaranteed dues from every worker and so it’s an option they tend not to use.
The case is likely to be heard in the Fall.
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