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California teachers sue NEA over forced $1,000 union dues

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Politics,Education,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,California

Ten California schoolteachers on Tuesday sued the National Education Association and California Teachers Association to escape mandatory union fees in a case that piggybacks on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling against forced union dues.

The teachers, represented by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights, claim that California's so-called "agency shop" law violates their free speech and free assembly rights and forces them to cough up $1,000 to pay for the union's mostly Democratic political activities.

The law, also known as the "fair share" rule to get nonunion members to pay for union expenses, has long been under fire. But a 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, which restricts how public unions can get money from nonmembers for political uses, appears to open the door to striking down the agency shop rule.

"Forcing educators to financially support causes that run contrary to their political and policy beliefs violates their First Amendment rights to free expression and association and cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny," said Michael Carvin, partner with Jones Day and lead counsel for the 10 teachers. "The Supreme Court questioned the continued constitutionality of 'agency shop' laws last year in the Knox decision."

In Knox, Justice Samuel Alito warned: "Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights."

The teachers are teamed with the Christian Educators Association International.

"Individual teachers have a constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to join a union and financially support its efforts," said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights.

"The government may not compel teachers to provide financial support to policies with which they fundamentally disagree."

The suit claims that the unions take positions during collective bargaining that many teachers oppose and should not be compelled to support with mandatory dues. It also claims that NEA and CTA dues fund a Democratic political agenda, not just collective bargaining.

Knox v. Service Employees International Union