The Aftermath of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

The unions have sought to portray Friedrichs as some kind of invidious war on organized labor. I find that an ugly, ludicrous characterization. These are teachers who don’t want to keep paying hundreds of dollars a year to an organization they disagree with in order to be allowed to keep their jobs. (Indeed, if it weren’t a matter of state law, a less polite word for agency fees would be “extortion.”) The plaintiffs, quite rightly, think that funds collected for “collective bargaining” also wind up subsidizing a political agenda with which they happen to disagree. The public interest attorneys who have supported the plaintiffs are the kind of passionate, principled defenders of First Amendment rights who would normally be celebrated by the unions and the left—if they were working on nearly any other case under the sun.

The litigation-as-reform strategy that first appeared in education desegregation and finance cases has now been adopted more broadly. It’s a safe bet that we’ll see much more legal activity around agency fees, tenure, teacher dismissal, and the rest. The split decision in Friedrichs is only a pause in this action—it is far, far from the last word.

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