About the Case
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the timeline for this case?
Bain v. CTA will be heard by the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court later this year. Depending on that Court’s decision, the case could be remanded back to District Court or appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in April 2015. We do not expect to get a final decision in the case until 2018, at the earliest.
I’ve heard teachers can opt out of political contributions already. What does this case add?
Teachers already cannot be forced to contribute to their unions’ PACs, which invest directly in candidate elections. This right is provided to teachers through election laws.
In fact, most teachers decline to contribute to their unions’ PACs, so many teachers believe they aren’t contributing to their unions’ political activities. But they are mistaken. At least a third of their dues go to pay for such political activities as lobbying, advocacy advertising and ballot measures.
Are the plaintiffs in this case anti-union?
No, the plaintiffs want to be members of their teacher unions, but they don’t want to be coerced into supporting their unions’ political activities. They want teachers to be able to opt out of supporting political activities without losing their union membership, voting rights and benefits.
Would the plaintiffs 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. The fair and constitutional approach would give teachers a costless choice about supporting the teacher unions’ political activities. Under that system, teachers would still be able to voluntarily support their unions’ political spending.
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 that case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Court cautioned unions not to 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.
Teacher-union practice punishes teachers for choosing not to pay the political portion of their dues by depriving them of important job-related benefits and voting rights. As a result, it violates the First Amendment rights of teachers.
Isn’t there already a similar case underway?
No, Bain v. CTA is the only case that addresses the First Amendment rights and political contributions of teachers who want to stay members of their unions.
There are a couple of other cases that address whether non-union members should be compelled to pay a mandatory fee (known as an agency fee) to the unions they have chosen not to join. In 2016, the Supreme Court considered Friedrichs v. CTA. Soon after the Court heard oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and the case dead-locked on a 4-to-4 vote. The legal principle may be reviewed again in either Janus v. AFSCME, a case out of Illinois, or Yohn v. CTA.
Won’t this damage teachers unions’ ability to represent their members?
This case doesn’t affect unions’ collective bargaining rights. It doesn’t even challenge mandatory agency fees from non-union teachers to support collective bargaining. It only requires that teacher-union leaders raise political support the same way as everyone else – through voluntary contributions.
Won’t this case be a death blow to unions’ political spending power?
Some union leaders have expressed fear that being forced to rely on voluntary contributions for their political activities would dramatically reduce their power and influence. Their fear is misplaced. First, a decline in funding isn’t inevitable. If union leaders can convince rank-and-file that their political and policy agenda is worthwhile, they should be able to raise the same amount of money through voluntary donations, if not more. Second, if they can’t raise funds voluntarily and they do lose power and influence, this may not be a bad thing. It might not be in the public’s interest to have union leaders negotiate labor contracts with people they have been instrumental in electing to office.
How does this case help California students?
Teacher unions have used their political war chest to defend the status quo and defeat efforts to make needed changes in public school policy. For example, they have forcefully opposed efforts to create high-quality public charter schools and to move away from seniority-based systems to performance-based systems. Many teachers do not support their unions’ political agenda and are being compelled to support it against their preferences. A favorable decision in this case would allow teachers to choose whether to contribute to this political agenda, without losing voting rights and job-related benefits. It could also open a national dialogue about which policies are truly beneficial for teachers and students.