Ten California teachers are suing to break one of the strongest iron triangles in American politics, where the taxpayers pay the teachers; the teachers’ union supports candidates and referenda, and that leads eventually to the teachers getting better pay, benefits and working conditions.
A civil rights law firm filed a federal law suit April 30 on behalf of 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International challenging the state’s closed shop law that has them contributing to support political activity they opposed.
"Individual teachers have a constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to join a union and financially support its efforts," said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the Washington-based non-profit law firm taking on the case.
"The government may not compel teachers to provide financial support to policies with which they fundamentally disagree,” he said.
Rebecca Friedrichs, one of the teacher plaintiffs, said, “The union spends millions of teachers' hard earned monies supporting causes and candidates that many of us oppose.”
Friedrichs said she does not want to control or stop the union from its activities. “The union is free to press its agenda, but individual teachers should not be forced to pay for it.”
It comes down to fairness, she said. “It is shocking to me and many other teachers that union officials have the power by law to spend our wages to press for causes that many of us oppose on moral, fiscal, or philosophical grounds."
By going after the California Teachers Association, these teachers are going after the biggest fish in the 50-state pond. In the Golden State, the CTA donated more than $150 million in political donations between 2003 and 2012, according to the website followthemoney.org. The other defendants are the National Education Association as well as 10 affiliated local teachers’ unions and local school officials.
In the last decade, the CTA gave 89 percent of its contributions to ballot initiatives, 10 percent to Democrats and less than 1 percent to Republicans, according to the site. The union backed 299 winners, 77 losers and a total of 625 incumbents.
California is a state with a huge political tradition of getting things done by ballot referendum, and the union was deeply involved in left-wing causes. In 2003, the union gave $250,000 to a fund called: Californians Against the Costly Recall of the Governor, during the recall election of Democrat J. Graham “Gray” Davis Jr., and 2008 the union donated $1.3 million to defeat Proposition 8, a referendum that amended the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.