As just about everyone engaged in education policy knows, today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. For those who need the Cliffnotes, the case is about whether a public union (California’s NEA affiliate) can require those who choose not to be union members to still pay agency fees for the collective bargaining benefits they receive.
Or even more simply, if you are a school teacher who chooses not be part of the teachers union, should you have to help pay some of the costs for all of the work that goes into negotiating your salary and benefits and that provides you the job guarantees you expect, whether you hold a union card or not?
Longtime readers of Eduflack would probably assume that I come down on the side of Friedrichs, joining with many other reformers in a supposed effort to stand up to the unions. But you’d be wrong.
I believe in the “fair share” arguments that the CTA and their supporters are making. I believe in the editorial stance that the Los Angeles Times took this morning. I believe that since Friedrichs benefits, she should pay her fair share for the collective bargaining rights she enjoys. She doesn’t have to pay the full freight of being a union member if she doesn’t want to, but we have to acknowledge that fair is fair.
My reasoning for such is simple, and quite personal. Twenty five years or so ago, I watched as my mother, and NEA member and high school teacher in West Virginia, walked the picket lines for better pay and better rights for teachers. Most of her fellow educators walked with her, as did most of the educators across the entire state. They did so against great threat. Striking teachers were told they would not be paid. They were told they would be punished for their actions. They were sued in court.
In my mother’s school, there were two or three teachers who chose not to strike, as is their right. They went into school each day during the strike, sitting in empty classrooms and drinking coffee. These teachers would be paid. And then they would receive the pay increases, improved benefits, and greater protections that the striking teachers fought so hard for.
None of the risk, all of the reward. Those teachers who chose to cross the picket lines of their fellow teachers were in a win-win. They didn’t jeopardize their careers, nor did they have to wonder how they were going to pay their rent that month. And then they received all of the benefits that they themselves refused to ask for. They got it because the teachers union negotiated it. Everyone benefits or no one does. That’s what a union and collective bargaining is all about.
At the time, my mother explained to my younger sisters the importance of unions and of collective bargaining. Her father was a lifelong member of the Teamsters. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Army. The Army taught him to drive a truck. And the Teamsters turned that skill into a profession. Because of his union, he was able to provide for his family of seven. When he cast a vote as a Teamster, it was always what was best for the group, not what may be best for him personally. They were a brotherhood, believing a rising tide lifted all boats.
I realize that many believe the Court will side with Friedrichs and determine that “fair share” is unfair for those not wanting to be in the union. I hope that isn’t the case. Yes, it is the right of every worker to determine whether they want to be full members of a public union or not. Yes, it is the right of a teacher to not want to pay for lobbying or political activities if they choose so. But it is also the obligation of that teacher, if he or she benefits from collective bargaining, to pay their fair share of the costs of said bargaining.