Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit Bain v. California Teachers Association, union workers may no longer be forced to pay fees to support political activities.
This case is one of three that could make its way to the Supreme Court and could diminish the power of public-sector unions.
One of the plaintiffs, who claims to be pro-union, doesn’t want to be forced to support the unions’ political activities.
“I would like to see CTA reformed so that it actually represents us. I do believe in labor unions,” said Bhavini Bhakta, a registered Democrat and public school assistant principal to the Washington Examiner. “I just don’t believe that what we have now works at all.”
In the case of Bain v. CTA, Bhakta and her co-plaintiff’s, teachers April Bain and Clare Sobetski have teamed up with the nonprofit group StudentsFirst, claiming that political fees are unconstitutional under the First Amendment and teachers in the union shouldn’t be subjected to paying them.
Bahkta points out that her local union surveys its members regularly to get their opinions on policy, while the leaders of the state headquarters at CTA often ignore members’ viewpoints.
Not to mention, private-sector union workers are able to opt out of paying these fees due to the Supreme Court’s 1988 Beck decision.
However, public unions rely heavily on these fees to support its political agenda. The CTA made $191 million in revenue from dues back in 2011.
The case is waiting for an official date for trial arguments and will appear before the West Coast’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Josh Lipshutz.
Teachers in the CTA can technically opt-out, but they are penalized and not considered full members. They can’t vote in union elections and aren’t edible for certain benefits.
“By withholding these benefits from nonmembers, the unions, under color of state law, punish teachers for refusing to contribute to the unions’ political and ideological expenditures,” states the complaint filed in April of 2015 in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.
For this reason, only 10% of teachers opt out of paying the full dues.
“This case is about fairness,” said Lipshutz. “It’s a group of teachers who don’t want to be treated like second-class citizens because they’re exercising their First Amendment right to not support the political activities of their unions.”
However, the union’s supporters like the American Federation of Teachers see this as an attack by StudentsFirst on unions.
“This is the same group that has worked for five years to stifle the voices of teachers, and strip them of collective bargaining and other rights and tools to do their jobs,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers back in April of 2015.
“The suit cites political activity on issues it considers unrelated to education — like gun control, for example. One wonders how anyone would not consider that an issue for students and educators, in the aftermath of tragedies like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Sadly, this lawsuit is attempting to use the First Amendment to stifle speech, not enhance it.”
The CTA has offered no comments as of late.
“We’re not in a position to comment on the case, which we are actively litigating at the Court of Appeals,” said Claudia Briggs, CTA spokeswoman.
But, the Bain case isn’t the only one battling the fees imposed by unions.
Both Yohn v. California Teachers Association and Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are claiming that the “security fees” paid by employees are unjust and security should be a condition of employment.
If both the political and security fees are removed, it would be a major blow to unions.
Author’s note: Although cases like this in the past were unsuccessful, with the appointment of Gorsuch, this has a much better chance of being ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor. This could shift the union’s power and weaken their impact in future major elections.