Should Teachers Be Forced to Pay Union Fees? Friedrichs v. CTA Brings Protests Outside Supreme Court

In testing the limits of individual conscience, the Friedrichs case may reveal the Court's commitment to freedom itself.


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"The unions force me to fund collective bargaining efforts that are harmful to my students," declared plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs on the steps of the Supreme Court. "And that's offensive to me."

Is it fair for employees to have to pay fees to a union they disagree with? That's the central question heard on Jan. 11th during oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Friedrichs, a public school teacher, contends that compulsory union fees violate her First Amendment rights of free speech and association. She seeks to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 decision that affirmed the right of public employee unions to demand so-called "fair share fees."

The California Teachers Association believes their negotiating power, and even their very existence, is at stake. If employees are permitted to opt out of these fees, the bargaining power and the viability of public sector unions could be permanently diminished.

Moreover, the union argues that opting out encourages teachers to "free ride" on the achievements of collective bargaining. Non-union teachers could end up with all the benefits of union membership – from salary to health plans and tenure agreements – without having to contribute to the cost of negotiation.

Lead counsel for the plaintiff, Michael Carvin, shrugged off the unions' free-rider argument:

"The proof is in the pudding. Most states don't require agency fees. The federal government doesn't require agency fees. And those unions do fine in that environment… It may impede their ability to become the largest political contributors to the Democratic Party."

Outside the Court, a rally in support for Rebecca Friedrichs was met by a somewhat larger counter-rally that favored the public sector unions. With a few hundred protesters from both sides crowded together on the steps of the Court, speakers attempted to out-shout and out-chant each other in the public square. 

A decision is expected in the summer.

Runs about 2:45.

Produced, shot, and edited by Todd Krainin.

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