I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Friedrichs Freeloaders Go To Court

Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs going before the Supreme Court today are those kind of teachers.

Those of you who've been working in schools for a while know what I mean. The kind of teacher who keeps pouring herself coffee from the pot in the faculty lounge, but never thinks to put some money in the jar to buy grounds and filters. The kind of teacher who eats his fill at the holiday party, but never seems to have his share of the catering bill "on them at the moment."

The kind of teacher who never seems to have the time to show up at a work action, but will be the first to complain that the negotiations team didn't fight hard enough for a pay increase. The kind of teacher who complains about local union leadership, but never steps up and runs for office herself.

The only difference is that Friedrichs and friends aren't guilt of these relatively trivial transgressions: instead of mooching free coffee, they want to mooch free negotiations.

As I wrote earlier this year, some of The Friedrichs Freeloaders, like Harlan Erlich, seem confused about what their case is actually all about. Erlich didn't like that his union supported marriage equity, but the law is actually quite clear: he doesn't have to support the union's political activities. A couple of quick checks on a form and Harlan can rest assured that his dues won't go to helping make sure two people in love can have legal rights. Because this is America, and you have the right to live in the Dark Ages and be a bigot if that's what you want.

No, what's at stake here is something else: The Friedrichs Freeloaders think they should be able to benefit from collective bargaining actions taken on their behalf by teachers unions. But they also think asking them to pay their fair share of the bargaining costs is somehow an encroachment on their free speech.

Understand, they aren't seeking to overturn state laws that require unions to negotiate on behalf of all public employees within a specific jurisdiction and job type. If that was the case, the Friedrichs Freeloaders could just go out and try to negotiate their own contracts, completely forgoing not only legal protections and services from the unions, but any benefits those unions receive from negotiations.

Good luck with that.

No, what the Friedrichs Freeloaders want is for the court to find that compelling them to pony up for the cost of negotiations is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Not of their rights to speak out against their union, though, nor to actually run in elections and change the policies of their locals; those rights are guaranteed (even if they are too much work for these plaintiffs).

What the Friedrichs Freeloaders want is the right to sponge off of you and me and every other hard-working teacher who is grown-up enough to understand that nothing comes free in this world -- unless Samuel Alito, who has been begging someone to bring a case like this, decides it does. They want the right to convince themselves that they aren't the worst kind of leeches, happily taking whatever they can get without ever acknowledging their gains come at someone else's cost.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Court acknowledged the free rider problem and came up with a simple solution: Abood v Detroit Board of Education clearly stated public employees could only be compelled to pay for those services related to negotiations. Understand, not all states even require these fees, known as "agency shop" or "fair share" fees.

Of course, in those states, teachers make considerably less. If the Freidrichs Freeloaders win their case, a lot of teachers, and other public employees, are going to suffer a wage penalty. I'm sure their conservative patrons -- the ones who are paying for this lawsuit -- will watch out for them.

The rest of us, not so much.

Personally, I don't know how the Friedrichs Freeloaders can sleep at night. They are setting up their colleagues for a major financial, professional, and personal blow. Millions of families of hard-working, middle-class teachers are going to suffer real consequences if they win, all so they can save a few bucks in union negotiating fees.

I'm no lawyer, so I'm not the guy to opine on the legal intricacies of this case. All I know is that I could never shaft my fellow teachers the way the Freidrichs Freeloaders are getting ready to shaft theirs. Legal abstractions are fine, but we're talking real lives here. You would think a group of teachers, of all people, would understand that.

ADDING: George Will wants you to believe it's no big deal when the Court overturns a ruling it made four decades ago. He's wrong; it's a very big deal. Stare decisis is a bedrock principal of law, abandoned only in the cases where the Court clearly ruled in violation of the Constitution or in a way that offends current principles. That's not the case here; agency fees have worked fine for 40 years, and in no way abrogate anyone's right to free speech. Overturning Abood is a radical act.


Giuseppe said...

An excellent response to the Friedrichs Freeloaders. In my opinion, if these freeloaders hate unions so much, then they should teach at a wide array of non union schools: charter schools, private schools and religious schools. No one puts a gun to their heads to teach in a unionized school, they should be aware of what they are getting into. These shameless freeloaders have no problems taking the better wages, the better benefits and the better working conditions as a result of the efforts of their union colleagues. A union is a democratic organization and its members have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and objections, there is plenty of opportunity to speak up and out. These anti union freeloaders disgust me, they are built-in scabs. It's all about union busting.

Unknown said...

They really are self hating teachers. Also, why can't someone else (the state,town, or district) pay the agency fees? If freeloading teachers aren't willing to pay some other institution that mandates collective bargaining and the union as the exclusive representative needs to step up. This is a rigged game

Sandra Talarico said...

I don't think this has anything to do with the teachers themselves. I think it has everything to do with a deliberate action to further weaken unions.

Here's a paragraph from the NYTimes as to who is behind the case: "The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, was organized by the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian group. The plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Michael A. Carvin, represented the challengers last year in King v. Burwell, a failed attempt to strike down nationwide tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Carvin pursued an unusual litigation strategy in the teachers’ case, asking lower courts to rule against his clients so he could speed the case to the Supreme Court."

Rob said...

It looks like one of the sites you link to has been hacked. The "teachers make considerably less" link directs to a bad site

Duke said...

Rob, it's fixed. Actually was pointing to the wrong thing; now it points to an EPI brief by Jeffrey Keefe. Sorry about that.

taph2o said...

You can bet as soon as they win this they will be getting jobs with the very people that are supporting their case. Leaving three legacy behind and be very smug about how well they did their masters bidding.

StateAidGuy said...

IMO, the problem with right-to-work isn’t that workers can benefit from union contracts without paying agency fees, the problem is exclusive representation. Ie, that the union still negotiates for workers who want to have nothing to do with the union.

Unions denounce non-joiners as “free riders,” but they are also “compelled riders,” since those workers currently have no choice but to work under the union’s contract. If a worker is willing to negotiate his own contract, legally he cannot. To call someone a “free rider” who doesn’t want to take that ride in the first place is wrong because that person is being given a service he never wanted.

True, under Abood, workers who object to a union’s political activities can be exempted from paying for money that goes to politics, but it is extremely hard to draw a line between what is contract negotiation and what is lobbying. If a public sector union negotiates (with elected officials) a very generous contract and taxes increase or it becomes extremely difficult to fire an underperforming staff member, then reasonable people can decide that that is political, even if it was arranged in a negotiating room.

Although negotiating salaries isn’t the same thing as electioneering, it has large impacts on public policy and thus can be considered political under a broader definition of that term.
In practical terms, unions tend to determine that extremely high percentages of their spending is negotiation & contract related. To look at New Jersey, NJEA dues (all-in) are about $1,000 per full time employee, but an agency-fee payer would still pay almost 85%.

If a contract is three years, then an agency fee payer would still pay $2550 for union representation, which is a huge amount even if negotiations take place over 20 hours. In a 500 staff member district, the union is taking $1,275,000 just for negotiations?

C’mon. Negotiations and contract disputes themselves don’t cost this much money.
The reason that there is so much more legal activism right now for right-to-work and not members-only representation is right to work has to precede members-only representation. If all workers are required to be agency-fee payers anyway, then how could a members-only contract exist?

Members-only contracts are legal under the National Labor Relations Act and the courts, but they are prohibited by state laws.

The reason for this is the unions themselves.

Unions know that the almost all of the workers who would negotiate their own contracts are workers who are able to negotiate better deals for themselves, whereas everyone else would (probably) take the union contract. Since unions don’t want anyone getting more money than what they negotiate, unions do not want members-only arrangements.

And since unions don’t want members-only arrangements, they are unable to accept right-to-work either.

The legality on members-only contracts is complex, but it appears to be legal.

StateAidGuy said...

FYI, according to this, members-only unions are already legal.

"the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has approximately 120,000 members in members-only unions spread across Texas, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Virginia."