On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that holds important implications for organized labor. Here’s what it’s about, from a story by my Post colleague Bob Barnes:
The justices will hear a challenge from a group of California teachers who say it violates their First Amendment rights to be forced to pay dues to the state’s teachers union.
The state is one of about 20 in which public employees are required to either join the union or pay a fee to support the union’s collective-bargaining activities. The unions say this is only fair because they are required to negotiate on behalf of all workers, not just their own members.
The non-members are not required to subsidize the union’s political activities, and the Supreme Court approved such a system in 1977, turning down a challenge that it was a violation of the fee-payer’s speech and association rights. But in a 2014 case involving health-care workers from Illinois, four of the court’s conservatives signed onto an opinion from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. that called the decades-old decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, “questionable on several grounds.” Rebecca Friedrichs and other California teachers have given the majority a clear chance to overrule the precedent.
Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation in Washington D.C., writes that the legal debate around the case has centered on the free speech rights of dissenting public employees vs. the state’s interests as an employer in keeping labor peace. But, he says, there is much more at stake, and he writes about it in the following report, “How Defunding Public Sector Unions Will Diminish Our Democracy,” which tries to broaden the discussion to talk about four distinct ways in which public sector unions strengthen democracies. Kahlenberg says this is an important interest that the Supreme Court should weigh in its decision, and he argues that if the plaintiffs win, the ability of public sector unions to protect workers will be severely harmed.
Kahlenberg has been called “the intellectual father of the economic integration movement” in K-12 schooling, and is an authority on teachers’ unions, private school vouchers, charter schools, turnaround school efforts, labor organizing and inequality in higher education. He is the author of a number of books, including “A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education” (with Halley Potter), and “Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice” (with Moshe Marvit). Kahlenberg was previously a fellow at the Center for National Policy, a visiting associate professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, and a legislative assistant to senator Charles S. Robb (D-VA).