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Tori Black is the president of United Families International. To learn more about UFI, click here.
On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court handed families another big win in the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling, overturning a 1977 decision that allowed unions to require payment of “fair share fees” from workers who declined union membership. The case was brought by Mark Janus, an Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services child support specialist, who claimed that mandatory payments to the state government workers union by non-union workers amounted to compelled speech and violated his First Amendment rights.
Unions claim that all state workers benefit from collective bargaining whether they are members or not. For that reason, non-right-to-work states could mandate the payment of fair share fees by non-union workers. Many workers, however, object to the way union dues are spent on political activism unrelated to collective bargaining. In the 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that unions could not compel union membership or payment of fair share fees.
A blow to teachers unions
One category of unions that will be severely impacted by this ruling, are those representing teachers. Teachers make up the largest group of state and local government employees. With mandatory union membership in almost half the states in the U.S., and compelled fair share fees paid by non-union workers, national teachers unions have revenues in the hundreds of millions every year. In 2016, the NEA and its state affiliates pulled in a record $1.6 billion in revenue.
The problem is what the teachers unions do with that money. Teachers unions once focused their efforts on improving working conditions for educators and the educational needs of students, but if you look at the organizations’ annual platforms and websites, you will find an advocacy group more interested in social-justice activism: dismantling the so-called “school to prison pipeline”; taking sides in court appointments including Supreme Court nominations; assisting students in planning and participating in demonstrations; instituting policies regarding transgender students that harm biologically female athletes and dismantle privacy rights; and protecting funding of Planned Parenthood and easy access to abortion.
In advocating these positions, teachers unions put their money where their mouth is by heavily contributing to political parties as well as PACs. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that federal contributions through February 2017 of both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supported just one political party over 95% of the time as well as left-leaning activist groups. This one-sided support is a reflection of the unions’ liberal political activism. Janus and others like him objected to their hard-earned dollars going to support political causes with which they fundamentally disagreed. Forcing their support of activities and ideologies to which they are opposed violated their freedom of speech. In the written opinion, Justice Samuel Alito explained that requiring a person to subsidize the speech of another raises “First Amendment concerns”:
Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned. Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues—say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.
How does this affect the family?
Any ruling that supports freedom of speech is a win for the family, but this ruling goes beyond that principle. Parents are a diverse lot whose educational preferences and political opinions cover the spectrum. The NEA and AFT have consistently advocated one position in politics and educational policy over the years, leaving many families at odds with the education establishment and feeling that public schools are unresponsive to both students’ and parents’ needs and interests.
With the Janus ruling, the NEA will experience a reduction in both fair share fees and dues as they anticipate an exodus of approximately 307,000 members. That amounts to $50 million in lost revenue. During oral arguments, Justice Roberts acknowledged that unions will have to make some uncomfortable changes, as they will no longer be able to rely on forced union membership. This should make them more responsive to the needs of teachers and administrators who have felt pressured to implement union ideology with which they and the communities they serve disagree. This has the potential to usher in state and local innovation as well as increased local control and participation by parents, all to the benefit of students.
There are many good ways to educate our children, but the best education begins with parents having a say in what and how their children are taught. Ending teachers unions’ top-down hegemony is the first step in transforming the system and putting parents and local communities back in control of their children’s learning.
And that is a very good thing for families!