Teachers and Prospective Teachers in Forced-Dues Stronghold States Will Be Better Off if Big Labor Loses in Friedrichs

Officials and militant activists of the three million-member National Education Association (NEA), America’s biggest teacher union, are currently gathered in Orlando, Fla., for their annual convention and representative assembly. Throughout the next few days, until the event finally concludes on Monday, NEA chiefs will undoubtedly be fretting loudly about the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement on Tuesday that it will grant the teacher appellants in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association a review of their case during its 2015-2016 session.

The Friedrichs case, which is based largely on the High Court precedents won by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation clients and attorneys in the 2012 Knox v. SEIU decision and the 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision, directly addresses the question of whether, under the First Amendment, educators and other public servants may be required to subsidize the speech of a labor union they do not support as a condition of working for their own government.

Nearly four decades ago, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court gave a constitutional green light for the extraction of forced fees for bargaining activities by government union officials from civil servants as a condition of employment, even while acknowledging that such compulsory financial support for a private organization may well “interfere” with “an employee’s freedom to associate for the advancement  of ideas, or to refrain from doing so, as he sees fit.” But in his recent majority opinions in Knox and Harris, Justice Samuel Alito pointed to several glaring flaws in the Abood court’s reasoning, and indicated the issue ought to be revisited.  Friedrichs, a case that emanates from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, gives the current Supreme Court justices an opportunity to overturn Abood and finally rule that, in the public sector, mandatory union dues violate the fundamental principles laid out in the Bill of Rights.

Over the past few months, teacher and other government union bosses wrote briefs urging the Supreme Court not to take up Friedrichs.  Of course, NEA union President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and other union bigwigs insist that the reason they zealously defend their prerogative to get public servants fired for refusal to pay dues or fees to a union they don’t want is because that’s what’s best for employees.  But the facts belie this claim.  Age-segregated population data regularly published by the U.S. Census Bureau and updated last week (see the link below) furnish one compelling example with regard to teachers in particular.

The Census Bureau data show that, nationwide, the U.S. K-12 school-age population (five to 17 years old) grew by just 0.9% from 2004 to 2014, an increase far below the overall population growth.

But this increase was far from evenly distributed.  Sixteen states chalked up school-age population gains of 6% or more over the past decade. Fifteen (Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) of the 16 have one thing in common: a Right to Work law on the books protecting employees from forced union dues. And even Colorado, the sole exception, does not permit compulsory unionism in the public sector.

Meanwhile, of the 13 states suffering the steepest declines in school-age population (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont), all lacked Right to Work protections prior to 2013, and only Michigan has a Right to Work law today. These 13 states saw school-age population losses ranging from 4.4% (Alaska) to 13.2% (Rhode Island).

Overall, the school-age population of the 22 states that have had Right to Work laws on the books continuously since 2004 grew by 8.9%, compared to an aggregate 3.8% decline for the 26 states that lacked Right to Work laws for the whole decade.

Based on the Census data alone, the best possible outcome in Friedrichs for teachers and prospective teachers who want expanded employment opportunities in forced-unionism stronghold states like California (K-12 population down by 4.7% since 2004), Illinois (K-12 population down by 6.4% since 2004) and Pennsylvania (K-12 population down by 6.2% since 2004) would be a victory for the plaintiffs.  (Of course, an even more important benefit for teachers would be the restoration of their freedom to decide for themselves, as individuals, whether their union monopoly-bargaining agent deserves their financial support.)

If forced-unionism states are doing such a poor job of creating good economic opportunities for families with schoolchildren that they are fleeing them in droves, can they really be good places for teachers?  It’s long past time for teacher union bosses to address that question, but the newly-released Census Bureau population data afford them a new opportunity.

Teacher union czarina Lily Eskelsen Garcia is horrified by the possibility that some time within the next year the U.S. Supreme Court may finally stop her and her cohorts from trampling on independent-minded educators’ First Amendment rights. Image: National Education Association

2014 Population Estimates

Resident Population by Age and State: 2004 [Excel 28k]