When the media deigns to cover a landmark Supreme Court case involving education, reporters should cultivate sources outside of the educational establishment, lest they run the long-term risk of being caught flatfooted by the ruling and the short-term risk of sacrificing fairness, balance and, yes, accuracy.
“Yesterday’s troubling oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association has prompted a flurry of doom-and-gloom stories in the media about the potentially devastating consequences for the union movement of a decision by the high court to overturn 40 years of precedent and outlaw ‘agency fee’ payments in the public sector,” Hank Reichman wrote on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “To be sure, there is much of concern here and one can only hope that common sense and reason might prevail over blind ideology and crass political interest with at least one member of the court’s conservative majority.” Reichman is a Professor Emeritus of History, California State University, East Bay.
“On November 13, 2015, the AAUP filed with the American Federation of Teachers an amicus brief before the US Supreme Court arguing that the payment of agency fees by non-members in collective bargaining unions to support union representation is constitutional,” the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) stated last year. “The case started when the plaintiffs, sponsored by organizations seeking to weaken unions, sued the California Teachers Association and a local California school district seeking to invalidate agency fee provisions in the collective bargaining agreement, arguing that agency fee clauses in the public sector violate the First Amendment.”
“On June 29, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari, and thereby agreed to hear the appeal. The AAUP amicus brief argues that collective bargaining, supported by the agency fee system, significantly benefits the educational system, and that removal of the ability to charge agency fees would upset the balance set by the states and burden the rights of union members.”
For its part, the Campaign for America’s Future claimed that “Friedrichs started with a disagreement among teachers-–the plaintiff is a teacher who feels she is unfairly having her income extracted from her paycheck by the union” As it happens, the plaintiff spoke at the Heritage Foundation on January 12, 2016, and she is quite articulate.
“My issues with (the) union started when I was a substitute teacher and I saw a teacher yanking children out of hall,” Rebecca Friedrichs said at Heritage. “I became an agency fee payer so she would not have to pay for political activities of the union but I still had to pay for collective bargaining that kept that teacher employed.”
Friedrichs has been a teacher for more than 20 years. “I split with the union over vouchers so I joined the union to influence debate or at least contribute to it.” She was, as she admits, unsuccessful, but her differences with the California Teachers Association did not end there.
“I work in low income communities,” she said. “When the economy tanked in 1998-1999, I tried to get the union to go for a 2-3% pay cut and prevent teacher layoffs.”
“The best the union would do was to offer laid off teachers seminars on how to collect unemployment benefits.”
Finally, she avers, “I find it immoral that unions fight for defined pensions at taxpayer expense” when many taxpayers get none or had to cash them in to keep body and soul together in the midst of this century’s first Depression.