Hit & Run

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

Supreme Court will hear the case next week.

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Teacher
Dreamstime

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.