Teachers Unions

A Former Teachers Union Member Explains Why He's Suing to Abolish Mandatory Dues

Supreme Court will hear the case next week.



Harlan Elrich, a math teacher in California's Sanger Unified School District, is one of 10 teachers who have filed a federal lawsuit against the California Teachers Association to halt its mandatory collection of union fees. The Supreme Court will hear the case, Friedrichs v. CTA, next week.

Elrich explains in The Wall Street Journal why he left the union and why he thinks all teachers have the right to divest from political causes they don't support:

I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.

Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a "survey," asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues—about $1,000 a year—went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.

So I opted out of paying the portion of union dues that is put toward political activities. The Supreme Court requires unions to provide this option, but I was surprised by how difficult this is. To opt out you have to resign from the union and relinquish all benefits—insurance, legal representation, maternity leave. Although you are prohibited from voting on any new contract, you are still forced to pay for the union's collective bargaining, on the theory that the union negotiates for everyone.

But over time I've learned that the union's collective bargaining is every bit as political. The union is bargaining for things I'd never support. For example, in my community, the union spends resources pushing for ever-higher teacher salaries. I'm in favor of a decent salary for teachers, but I think we are already well paid compared with everyone else in the Central Valley.

The area has endured hard times in the past few years. Parents of my students have been laid off, and many are still unemployed. Some have moved in with grandparents or other family members to stay afloat financially. Families struggle to make ends meet. That the union would presume to push, allegedly on my behalf, for higher salaries at the expense of smaller class sizes and avoiding teacher layoffs is preposterous.

The union also negotiates policies on discipline, grievances and seniority that make it difficult—if not impossible—to remove bad teachers.

Full thing here.

Reason's Matt Welch interviewed lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs in July. Watch that interview below.

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  1. Harlan Elrich, a math teacher in California’s Sanger Unified School District, is one of 10 teachers who have filed a federal lawsuit against the California Teachers Association to halt its mandatory collection of union fees.

    I don’t give this ‘free-rider’ lawsuit much chance of success seeing that it would rock the entire purpose of pubsec unionism at its foundation. Don’t courts have some provision for “reasonable level of fucked-upness” that we’re supposed to accept?

    1. Don’t courts have some provision for “reasonable level of fucked-upness” that we’re supposed to accept?

      Yes, it is hereby known as the ‘penaltax’ rule.

    2. That which has been found constitutional in positive law (Wisconsin passed such a law) may also be found for in the negative.

    3. Which is tragic, because the ‘free-rider’ argument is utter bullshit. If a drunk guy takes an uber home instead of driving, that doesn’t entitle uber to extort money from everyone else who was on the road that night because uber benefited all of them by removing the risk of another drunk driver from the streets. Private companies are not allowed to force people who benefit from their goods or services without having to buy them to pay them protection money, unions shouldn’t have the right either.

      But you’re right, the suit will probably fail. First job of a judge is not to disturb the status quo and second job is to protect the interests of powerful state institutions.

  2. “So I opted out of paying the portion of union dues that is put toward political activities.”

    “And *then* I opted out of paying the portion of my taxes that is put toward political activities.”

  3. LOL,is he suing over mandatory membership too ? 🙂

    1. Did you really laugh out loud, or did you just type that?

      1. Is that and inclusive or exclusive OR ?

        1. Is this a game that everyone can play too, or is it a personal thing?

  4. Instead, the union focused on politics.


  5. I’m in favor of a decent salary for teachers, but I think we are already well paid compared with everyone else in the Central Valley.


    1. I shudder to think what this person has been teaching our impressionable youth.

    2. He must nor be one of those teachers that I’m always hearing about who spend all night every night grading papers and designing curricula, and spending all their disposable income on supplies, and feeding half the kids in their classes with food taken out of their own children’s mouths.

      1. aka Matt Damon’s Mom

      2. Ah, you have been hearing the Illinois Education Association (big-assed teacher’s lobby) radio ads then?

        1. big-assed teacher’s lobby

          Go on.

          1. One day society will stop hating sexy young women and the fathers of young children and allow the dame people to be child educators and sex workers — at mutually exclusive times.

          2. By God, if there is one thing I can count on – it is HM TO THE (BACKSIDE) RESCUE!!!!

            Thanks for that.

          3. If their leader is any indication, Chicago has a huge-ass teacher’s lobby.

            Google “Karen Lewis”. A Thomas Nash caricature come to life.

        2. Is there a separate union for teachers with small posteriors?

  6. Guido doesn’t give a shit about serving the teachers, Guido just wants the union dues to buy hookers and blow for the mob and the politicians.


  7. Doesn’t have a chance. Union interests are too well-established to be overturned on constitutionality. I think the best we’re ever going to do is sneaking in a few more right-to-work laws in a few more purple states.

    But hey, maybe I’m wrong and today is the day when California judges are about to suddenly turn into strict constitutionalists. It could happen.

  8. Given that in a year I’ll be a teacher in Cali, I am rooting for this guy hard. I’m planning to try to move to private, but unfortunately in public there are just more jobs and the bizarre thing is that public teachers get generally better salary and benefits than private out the gate (I mean, they have somewhat stricter liscencing is how they internally justify it, but it has to be one of the few areas in which a gov’t job beats a private sector across most areas- average salary, benes, etc. Like, for most its benes and KINGS MEN, here its also base pay).

    If I have to pay the dues, I do plan to join the union (because why not at that point?). The problem is that I will show up at meetings and be vocal, and my tires will be slashed by Week 3. So… yeah, no auto dues would be nice for me.

    (And before everyone piles on to advocate against becoming a teacher, which for some reason has happened here in the past: Its a solid day job that lets me give back, talk daily about something I’m passionate(history), and lets me pursue other stuff on the side-writing mostly. And I get a whole summer to do that? And like, take some bullshit part time job just to stay active and make some money? Fuck yes. Plus, wouldn’t some of y’all rather your kids teacher for high school history leaned a bit libertarian? I mean, I’m going to try to stay objective, but I want to do things like teach students a bit of econ. all 4 years of HS instead of the final one)

    1. Never explain. Your friends don’t need it, and your enemies weren’t going to listen anyway.

      Good luck, and keep a bag of… well, I was going to suggest a bag of chocolates in your desk, but that would probably be criminal and get you on the sex offender registry somehow. So, let’s just leave it with luck and congratulations! I hope you enjoy it.

      1. Rather than a bag of chocolates, I might suggest a sock full of nickels. Given your likely interactions with the union, anyway.

        1. He could make it a sock with a bar of soap, which leaves fewer injuries. Also effective.

          1. which leaves fewer injuries

            Go with the nickels, Je Suis.

            1. Bag of oranges always struck me as most polite.

              Leave your victim with a nice citrus-y smell.

        2. Ugh, don’t get me started. The parents can hit the 16 year olds. The 16 year olds can hit me and face some pretty nonexistent consequences, depending. Seriously, there is a push of late to get away from suspensions for two reasons:

          1) It makes a kid WAY WAY WAY more likely to drop out, etc. With marginal kids, you suspend them, any amount of them are going to say, “Fuck it.” and never come back to school.

          2) A high level of suspensions makes a district “look bad” from a PTA, stats standpoint. And it’s not just in urban schools- any number of suburban school doing it. Basically, you have a choice between two good suburban school district, but one suspends more/at a higher rate, which makes it look like the school has a discipline problem. So there is pressure on all schools to look good at discipline rather than, y’know, actually fucking discipline.

          Not that I want to hit them- I’m more making a joke/being tongue in cheeck- but it is a bit weird how dis-empowered teachers are in the process. Like, a student swings at me, and I swing back to defend myself- we all know who gets in bigger trouble, regardless of the facts on the ground. And if their parent corporeally punishes them- well, grey area with the legal requirement to report suspect child abuse, but generally- that’s okay too. But like, I have to content myself with… taking away their phone for the rest of the day (now not legal in California. Really. I am not shitting you. You can’t take phones away for the day).

          1. Ironically, any of those kids goes out on the street corner after school, and a cop could get away with roughing him up or worse just for talking back to him.

    2. I had an libertarian as my History 3, Econ/Gov teacher in High School. He was wonderful and did a great job. He wasn’t heavy handed, but he did a good job of pointing out the problems with the text book.

  9. While I have no faith in the competence of New York’s governor in…anything really, apparently government school teachers are becoming resentful that the government has a say in how their schools are run.


    If you think education should be the domain of government then education is going to be run by politicians, you cannot have one without the other.

  10. This is one of the few free-rider situations that unions actually get up in arms about. Unions need to kick the “free riders” out of the club, not force them to belong. Tell them they’ll have to bargain for wages and bennies on their own. That will teach ’em!

  11. Here’s the funny thing:

    I don’t you can distinguish between a pubsec union negotiating its contract, and lobbying. Isn’t everything pubsec unions do political, as in, trying to influence what the government does?

  12. I was an AP Physics teacher for 8 years in Arizona (a right to work state). However, the unions are still the one negotiating the salary schedule. And it is exactly because of the union bullshit that I got paid on the same scale as the 9th grade English teacher who can’t spell, the football coach who “teaches” history (really just coloring class) and the PE coach. And with an MS in Mech Eng, with significant course work in grad level physics (thermal energy systems was my area of research) it counted the same as the bullshit MA in Secondary Ed.

    1. Shit, I should pick your brain at some point.

      Although sadly I am getting on of those BS MAs. Still better than a straight BA in education. I’m doing it mostly because it combos with accredation, but in retrospect I never even looked into whether a subject-area MA would have counted. My perception was that those were generally for community college/you’re going to academia/possibly state dept/think tank depending on region of expertise. Mine would have been a history MA with a late US 1800s focus if I’d gone that way… so basically totally useless still, but if I had an interest in Mid East history I think job exist outside of academia.

  13. A long time ago, I got a temp UPS job as a helper during xmas season. The teamsters got their cut.

  14. But how are we supposed to indoctrinate the children to be happy little slaves???

    Why won’t you think about the slaves???

  15. Its a shameful think to consider. With this type of schooling system, how would our kid grow academically and intellectually. Interference of politics into education system will definately harm student’s both present and future. Thanks to coachings like Eye Level Ashburn-South/a>, that even if kids aren’t able to concentrate in school learning because of such selfish stuffs, they are trained in tutions and coachings to maintain their intellectual growth. If such kind of attitude is continued with the teaching system, it would further deteriorate the condition. Some action is required to be taken.

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