Big Labor Apologist Richard Kahlenberg Smears Independent-Minded Teachers

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an ongoing, landmark legal case that challenges the constitutionality of state laws authorizing the termination of public servants for refusal to pay dues or fees to an unwanted union, has received an unprecedented amount of media attention this week as a consequence of oral arguments that took place on Monday.

But long before the Friedrichs plaintiffs’ and the respondents’ counsels of record stepped into the Supreme Court’s chamber to present their cases in person and respond to the justices’ questions, at least one significant matter of contention between the two sides had already been resolved.

Responding to a false insinuation by the respondents in the case that only union nonmembers who receive “additional compensation as a result of the Unions’ efforts” are forced to pay union fees, or be fired, the plaintiffs presented clear evidence to the contrary in their September merits brief.  And the evidence came straight out of the National Education Association (NEA) union handbook.

“Respondent Unions advocate numerous policies that affirmatively harm [many] teachers . . . ,” charged the Friedrichs plaintiffs.

Quoting directly from the NEA Handbook, the plaintiffs continued, “NEA considers any ‘system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance’ to be ‘inappropriate’ and ‘opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.'”

Teachers who “care more about rewarding merit than protecting mediocre teachers” should “oppose those policies,” continued the plaintiffs. And “teachers who specialize in difficult subjects (like chemistry or physics), but are trapped in union-obtained pay systems that stop them from outearning gym teachers,” should also oppose such policies.

In the merits briefs they filed a couple of months later, neither California Teachers Association (CTA/NEA) union bosses nor California Attorney General Kamala Harris, both of whom were arguing in favor of the perpetuation of public sector forced union fees for nonmembers, contested the plaintiffs’ evidence showing that substantial numbers of teachers get paid less as a consequence of union monopoly bargaining.

In fact, Harris actually admitted in her own brief that union officials, including, implicitly, teacher union bosses, “do have substantial latitude to advance bargaining positions that . . . run counter to the economic interests of some employees.”

There was no further debate on this point at Monday’s oral arguments.

However, after the hearing was over, and the questions and assertions of the justices persuaded most observers that a majority are prepared to rule in favor of the plaintiffs and declare laws authorizing government-sector forced union dues and fees to be unconstitutional, a number of Big Labor apologists lashed out at teachers who choose not to join a union as if the exchange in the briefs about the impact of union monopoly bargaining on educator compensation had never occurred.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of a biography of the late teacher union kingpin Al Shanker, is a particularly egregious example.

In a Tuesday op-ed for the New York Times, Kahlenberg simply ignored the uncontested fact that many teachers are hurt economically by union contracts that tie pay exclusively to seniority and years of post-graduate education (a scheme Shanker himself originally helped concoct), regardless of the subject studied and its relevance to the teachers’ work.  Instead, Kahlenberg cited the mere fact that many teachers in Right to Work states opt not to join a union as proof that these teachers “enjoy getting benefits for nothing . . . .”

Instead of smearing teachers who disagree with him about the merits of monopolistic unionism, Kahlenberg ought to acknowledge that Kamala Harris had it right: Many teachers refuse to bankroll a union when they have a choice because they rationally believe it harms them economically.

Kahlenberg is entitled to favor compulsory union membership if he wants to.  But, as the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put it, no one is entitled to his own facts.

Even pro-forced unionism California Attorney General Kamala Harris has admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court that teacher union officials have “substantial latitude to advance bargaining positions that . . . run counter to the economic interests of some employees.” But according to union-label “think tanker” Richard Kahlenberg (pictured), teachers who opt not to bankroll a union that may well harm them “enjoy getting benefits for nothing.” Image: zocalopublicsquare,org