Conservative Christians Challenge Unions

     SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - Conservative Christians sued the major teachers unions, demanding an end to California's "forced subsidization" of teachers unions.
     Christian Educators Association International and 10 public schoolteachers sued the California Teachers Association, the National Education Association and a host of local union affiliates, in Federal Court.
     "Closed shops" have been the subject of repeated litigation, in California and elsewhere. In California, the unions have generally prevailed.
     In this case, lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs claims her forced payment of union dues violates the First Amendment. She also challenges the requirement to opt out of paying fees for the union's political activities.
     The plaintiffs want the unions enjoined from forcing nonmembers to contribute. They estimate the forced payment of dues costs them $1,000 apiece per year.
     Unions justify the closed shops by claiming that all teachers benefit from the unions' collective bargaining.
     But Friedrich et al. claim the First Amendment includes "the right to withhold support from political causes and activities that conflict with one's beliefs." They call the compulsory union dues "compelled speech" that forces them to pay for causes they oppose, including gay rights and gun control.
     California "and its public school districts, in cooperation with the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the other named defendants, maintain an 'agency shop' arrangement that injures public school teachers, including plaintiffs, by forcing them to make financial contributions to teachers' unions as a condition of public employment," according to the 26-page federal complaint.
     Collective bargaining benefits or no, the teachers say they don't want to pay the "chargeable expenditures" which they describe as "germane to collective bargaining."
     Teachers may decline to pay non-chargeable expenditures but must give the union notice every year, the complaint states. Teachers who do so receive a $350 to $450 refund but may have to give up direct benefits such as disability insurance, according to the complaint.
     "This 'opt out' process is unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming and is susceptible to resistance and pressure from the unions and their members," the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs claim the union system "does not serve the interests of all public school teachers," and comes "at the expense of other teachers who would fare better under an alternative system."
     "Recognizing that compulsory agency fees violate the First Amendment will not undermine the unions' authority or entitlement to engage in collective bargaining," the complaint states. "The unions will remain the exclusive collective-bargaining agents in each school district as long as they retain the support of a majority of teachers in those districts. Public school teachers will, therefore, remain fully entitled to join together and collectively bargain through the unions for any and all desired labor protections."
     In an interview with Courthouse News, California Teachers Association spokesman Frank Wells called the claims "another baseless attack on the concept of agency fees."
     Wells said the opt-out process was far from "arduous:" that teachers were mailed a form every year and had only to return it.
     "There's not a lot of hoops that they have to jump through," Wells told Courthouse News. "We facilitate the process every year."
     Wells said the complaint was "a rehash of ideas that were rejected by voters in the last election," as Proposition 34. Among other things, the measure would have banned unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political activities.
     Wells said that "the concept of agency fees is sound."
     Mandatory union fees have typically survived scrutiny in the U.S. Supreme Court. But states have the power to ban the fees.
     Defendants in this complaint include local unions in Norwalk-La Mirada Unified in Los Angeles County, Santa Ana Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified in Orange County and Chino Valley Unified in San Bernardino County. Local school officials also are named as defendants.
     The plaintiffs are represented by John Vogt with Jones Day of Irvine.