Editorials

In Friedrichs case, justices should follow precedent, side with labor

Protestors rally as the Supreme court hears arguments in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
Protestors rally as the Supreme court hears arguments in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Associated Press

From all reports, the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to undermine organized labor and curb states’ ability to reasonably govern their own affairs.

We hope calm heads and labor prevail, and that the justices affirm 40-year-old precedent by ruling against plaintiffs led by Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

California and about 20 other states have laws that say public employees aren’t required to pay for unions’ political activity. But they must pay their fair share of the cost of union activities such as contract negotiations and representation of members in grievances.

Friedrichs argues that CTA’s labor positions, such as those favoring seniority rules, are inherently political. The fair-share requirement, she contends, violates her First Amendment right to not spend her money for stands with which she disagrees.

Her free-speech claim – that she shouldn’t be compelled to pay for an agenda with which she disagrees – has surface appeal. But she has alternatives: campaign for school board candidates who reflect her values, work within the union to modify its stands, or find work at a private school.

We agree with Friedrichs on some labor points. The last-hired, first-fired rule can harm kids, especially in inner city schools, and we’re appalled that the union fought legislation to make it easier to fire teachers who violate children in some of the worst ways.

But the Friedrichs case raises troubling political issues. It’s of the same ilk as so-called paycheck protection initiatives, which sought to restrict the ability of organized labor to raise money for campaigns by limiting their ability to take political donations from workers’ paychecks.

California voters rightly rejected those initiatives three times. In each instance, conservative interests sought to limit labor’s influence and enhance their own.

Friedrichs’ supporters include longtime labor critics and so-called right-to-work advocates. In an interview last year, Finn Laursen, executive director of the Christian Educators Association, one of the plaintiffs, told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member that the group targeted the California Teachers Association with the suit because it is a “strong agenda-packed union.” He cited the union’s stands on “on homosexuality and abortion, and right down the list.”

In its 2010 Citizens United decision and ones since, the Supreme Court opened the way for unlimited corporate spending on politics. Those decisions have not served democracy well.

Flawed though it is, organized labor is one of the few forces that works to limit corporate overreach. We hope the court doesn’t further tilt electoral politics by eroding public employee unions’ ability to fund their efforts.

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