Who are the plaintiffs?
This case was filed by four California teachers who are asking the court to protect their First Amendment rights, including the right to opt out of political contributions without losing their union membership. Although these four teachers come from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, all are proud union members and appreciate the employment benefits and voting rights that accompany this membership. But in order to receive these benefits, the plaintiffs are forced to support the political spending of their unions. Although the current law allows them to “opt out” of this support, making that choice strips them of their union membership and the important employment-related benefits that come with it. It is simply unfair for these teachers to be denied employment-related benefits as a punishment for refusing to support particular political causes.
Are these teachers just opposed to their unions’ politics?
It is unfair and unconstitutional to force anyone to provide financial support for political causes, even political causes they agree with. All four plaintiffs are proud union members and approve of many—but not all—of their unions’ political causes.
Would they feel differently if their unions supported other political ideologies?
This case is not about political ideology; it’s about fairness. Right now, teachers are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to opt out of contributing to union political spending, stripped of valuable employment-related benefits. The fairest approach is one that gives teachers a choice about which political causes and candidates they wish to support. Under that system, teachers would be able to support their unions’ political spending when it aligned with their own beliefs; when it did not, they could make independent political contributions or spend their money on other things.
How did Gibson Dunn get involved in this case?
In 2012 Gibson Dunn began working on Vergara v. California, which challenged the constitutionality of five of the state’s teacher employment laws. In speaking with Bhavini Bhakta and other teachers during Vergara, Gibson Dunn heard about the frustration teachers experience when they are forced to spend their own money on political causes that they believe weaken California’s schools and classrooms.
What legal precedent supports the theory of this case?
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court first held that requiring teachers to pay dues to support unions’ ideological and political activities violates teachers’ First Amendment rights. In addition, the Court cautioned that unions may not punish teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights by treating them differently than other teachers. Many subsequent Supreme Court decisions extended and elaborated on this ruling. The California system, which punishes teachers for choosing not to pay the political portion of their dues by depriving them of important employment-related benefits and voting rights, violates the First Amendment rights of teachers.
Isn’t there already a similar case underway?
There is another case related to union membership currently in progress. In Friedrichs v. CTA, California teachers who are not union members sued their unions, arguing that they shouldn’t be obligated to pay any union dues at all. By contrast, plaintiffs in Bain v. CTA are, and wish to remain, members of their unions. They value the protections and benefits of union membership, and they wish to continue to pay dues to cover the costs associated with obtaining and expanding these benefits through collective bargaining. However, they do not want to be forced to contribute to the unions’ political activities as a condition of enjoying their employment-related benefits.
If StudentsFirst is involved, isn’t this just an effort to weaken teachers unions?
StudentsFirst believes in doing everything possible to elevate the teaching profession, and there’s no better way to accomplish this than to protect teachers’ rights. This case is an opportunity to stand up for teachers who are being put in the unfair position of being forced to fund political causes they don’t support in exchange for employment-related benefits.
Won’t this damage teachers unions’ ability to represent their members?
This case doesn’t concern unions’ collective bargaining abilities. It doesn’t challenge the requirement that teachers contribute the non-political portion of their dues, and thus it will have no impact on the collective bargaining revenue that unions collect or their ability to put that money towards vigorous representation of California teachers.
Won’t this case be a death blow to unions’ political spending power?
The political spending power of teachers’ unions should not rely on compelling teachers to support causes with which they disagree. If Bain v. CTA is successful, it will shift the burden to unions to convince their members to support their political work. It will give teachers a real choice, instead of the coercion they currently face, when deciding whether to support the unions’ political activities.
What is the timeline for this case?
The case will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in April 2015.
How does this case help California students?
The political spending of teachers’ unions historically has favored status quo policies that harm students and that many teachers oppose. A favorable decision in this case will allow teachers to choose whether to contribute to this political agenda without worrying about employment ramifications, paving the way for a more open national dialogue about which policies are truly beneficial for teachers and students.