About the Case
The First Amendment protects every American from being compelled to support political speech or causes. Yet, in America today, thousands of teachers are deprived of valuable job-related benefits and voting rights when they exercise their free-speech rights.
Teacher-union leaders have created a hard choice for rank-and-file teachers. If a teacher wants to receive valuable union benefits, she is forced to fund the unions’ political agenda and activities. There’s no way to get around it, because the teacher-union leaders have bundled their political activities with those valuable benefits into comprehensive membership dues.
The teacher unions didn’t need to inextricably link their benefits with political funding. In fact, following a Supreme Court decision in 1977, the most natural approach would have been to isolate their political expenditures, and then allow teachers to choose whether they wanted to support political activities. That apparently wasn’t a choice union leaders wanted their rank-and-file members to have.
What happens if Bain v. CTA is successful?
If the case is successful, the teacher unions would no longer be allowed to bundle political activities into comprehensive membership dues. Depending on the ruling, teachers would have to either opt in to, or out of, funding political speech.
Implementation wouldn’t be that hard, because the largest teacher unions already keep their books so that they can break dues revenue into two categories:
- “Chargeable” expenses are the costs of providing collective bargaining services and other economic benefits to teachers. Chargeable expenses vary by local, but they’re typically about two-thirds of membership dues.
- “Non-chargeable” expenses are the costs of political or ideological activities. It includes advocacy advertising and ballot measures, as well as lobbying activities. Non-chargeable expenses typically represent about one-third of membership dues.
Teacher unions already make these calculations to determine the size of mandatory fees that non-union teachers must pay them. In California, New York, Illinois and 22 other states, teachers who opt out of the union still have to pay a mandatory fee equivalent to the “chargeable,” non-political portion. It’s known as an “agency fee,” although the teacher unions often call it a “fair-share fee,” arguing that non-union teachers benefit from their collective bargaining work and should, therefore, be forced to pay their fair share.
Think about how the bundling of politics with union benefits is especially coercive in the agency-fee states. If a teacher exercises her First Amendment rights, she loses all of her union benefits and jeopardizes cordial relations with zealous unionized teachers. After making all of those sacrifices, she still has to pay a mandatory fee equal to about two-thirds of the union dues.
Ultimately, a successful case would create a new class of teacher: union members who aren’t coerced into supporting their leadership’s political activities.