Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some Thoughts on Friedrichs

I am not going to explain all the nuances in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, because frankly, I don't know them all myself. What I do know is that a group of ten teachers in California is arguing before the Supreme Court that they should not have to pay any union dues at all, even though they benefit from collective bargaining. Their rationale is that because public unions negotiate with the government, they are inherently political organizations, and therefore impinge on the free speech of members who don't agree with them.

I'm not a lawyer, because if I was I'd have a better car, but I see a lot of flaws in this argument. For example, one would have to say that political campaigns are inherently political, as well, yet this same Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that it was perfectly OK for billionaires to spend as much as they want to elect officials who will do their bidding. This effectively drowns out the free speech of people like myself, who don't have the funds to compete with the Koch brothers. So it appears that the Roberts' court believes the First Amendment is absolute, as long as you have lots and lots of cash, or you are a puppet of those who do, like the teachers in the Friedrichs case.

The teachers in Friedrichs are arguing that since the union is political and represents them, they shouldn't have to pay anything because they disagree with their union's politics. This seems like a perfect argument as to why the Supreme Court should strike down the income tax. Obviously, everything the government does is inherently political. I pay plenty of taxes to reap the benefits of this society, but I totally disagree with a lot of the things that the government does. Why should I pay for the illegal wars of the Bush family, or for a ridiculously large military when I am a pacifist? Taxes are the price I pay to be a part of this greater Union of the United States, but if Friedrichs prevails, why should anyone pay?

You might argue that I am free to leave the country, or to vote in new leaders who better represent my views. But that's exactly what the teachers in the Friedrichs case could do, as well. If you don't want to teach in a unionized school, don't do it. Leave. Go teach in a private or parochial school. Half the states are "right to work" states where there are no unions (and lower pay and fewer benefits). And as for voting, union members can vote in new leaders who better represent their own views if they choose to. None of their rights will be abridged.

Now to some practical matters. What happens when teachers are allowed to opt out of union dues? Exactly what contract will they be bound by? Will they be entitled to the same pay and benefits of those of us who pay our dues? By what authority? And what happens when their contractual rights are violated? Will the union be forced to defend people who aren't supporting the union?

Will non-members be allowed to "buy-in" to the union when they need it--like when a rogue principal or AP goes after them? That would be akin to allowing someone to buy health care after they get sick, while the rest of us pay in sickness and in health.

I've been a pretty harsh critic of the UFT at times, but I know that without them, I would likely be unemployed rather than retired in relative comfort. I was targeted by one the worst, and frankly stupidest, principals I have ever met because of my union activities. I testified against him at a fellow teacher's 3020a hearing. Had it not been for my union, I'd have been fired on the spot. Now that I am collecting my pension, my dues seem like a pretty good investment.

Of course, the teachers in the Friedrichs case think they are the best teachers ever, so nothing like that could ever happen to them. They are so wonderful that they don't need a union. They will just burst into the DOE, and by virtue of their glowing excellence, demand better pay and working conditions than the union could ever get them. And the DOE will give them what they want, because they are such outstandingly wonderful educators that one day they will vanish in flash of light and end up teaching Danielson high atop a mountain in the Himalayas.

If Friedrichs prevails, I am hoping that every teacher gives the ruling a big middle finger and continues to pay dues. But what of those who decide they'd rather keep the ten Bennies a year rather then support their fellows?

If it were me, I would not even talk to such a person. They are the moral equivalent of scabs, and should be treated as such. If they leave us to pay dues while they take a free ride, why should we help them out in the least? I wouldn't share a lesson plan, a crumbling piece of chalk, or even a glance with such a person.

That should be the UFT's position should Friedrichs come to pass. You're either a dues payer, or you aren't. If you are, you're entitled to everything the union has to offer. If not, you're on your own.