As expected, in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a 4-4 tie vote in the critical Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which sought to determine whether non-union public employees could be forced to subsidize union collective bargaining.
While the tie vote means that a Ninth Circuit ruling against the non-union plaintiffs will hold sway for the time being, teacher and lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs vows to press for a re-argument of their case before the Supreme Court, saying, “My hopes and spirits are high.”
The non-union teacher plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case argued that union-bargained contracts, which cover both union and non-union teachers, are inherently political documents and often contain policies detrimental to teachers and students, such as uniform salaries, inflexible tenure rules and lax discipline standards. According to the plaintiffs, forcing them to pay so-called “agency shop” fees to the unions to negotiate such contracts violates their First Amendment rights of free speech and free association.
Rebecca Friedrichs and her legal team are undeterred by the Supreme Court tie vote. Terry Pell, head of the Center for Individual Rights, which brought the case on behalf of Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs, said, “We believe this case is too significant to let a split decision stand and we will file a petition for re-hearing with the Supreme Court.”
In an interview with the Pacific Research Institute prior to the Supreme Court’s tie vote, she laid out why she was willing to endure the scorn and invectives from the teachers union. “I hope that teachers, and other public-sector workers,” said Ms. Friedrichs, “will be free to decide for themselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union.”
For Ms. Friedrichs, overturning forced “agency shop” fees to the teacher unions is not just about keeping a few more dollars in her own pocket. No, it is about much more than that. Pointedly, she said, “the unions’ benefits are not worth the moral costs.” She explained: “When [the teacher unions] ‘protect’ my rights by defending teachers who are no longer effective, or are even abusive, in the classroom, at the expense of vulnerable children, I have a huge moral dilemma with their ‘protection.’”
Further, when the unions “pressure the legislature to provide Cadillac pension benefits for me at the expense of the economy and my community, I have a moral problem there too.”
“Our educational system,” she warned, “is funded by taxpayers and exists to educate and serve children, yet it is riddled with corruption and mismanagement of funds. In my mind, putting the desires of adults above the needs of the children is immoral.”
Yet, she noted, this immoral situation is made possible because of coercive government laws that favor the unions’ interests, not rank-and file teachers: “Because of the automatic dues paying regime, union leaders are not accountable to teachers.”
The result, according to Ms. Friedrichs, is sadly ironic: “Forced fees have led to unions that have become what they used to fight. They’re powerful, entrenched organizations more focused on self-preservation than on educating children and protecting workers.”
In the end, Ms. Friedrichs, concluded, “The only court in the country that can vindicate our rights to free speech and free association, and protect us from this unfortunate treatment, is the U.S. Supreme Court.”
For that crucial reason, she and her fellow plaintiffs are willing to do it all again and continue the fight for freedom in the nation’s highest court on another day.