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Above: Los Angeles school teacher April Bain

The latest Rheeist attack on unions is quite special. Her organization Students First is helping a woman named April Bain, featured above, in a lawsuit against the California Federation of Teachers. Bain admits that the union does good things. But she doesn’t want to pay the dues the union uses for political activities. I’ll let Moshe Marvit explain the details of how this incredibly ludicrous but very dangerous case is being argued.

At issue in Bain is not that teachers may choose to opt out of membership with their union and pay a reduced dues rate while still receiving all the benefits of the contract. Those fair share fee cases, such as the seminal Beck v. Communication Workers of America, focus on the process of opting out of membership and the types of fees that would be refundable. At issue are those teachers who choose not to be members of the union and do not receive the members’ benefits from the union, such as being able to vote in union elections and access to any union-sponsored insurance programs. Bain and other teachers in the suit argue that it is unfair and unconstitutional for them to be denied any benefits of membership as a result of their decision to opt out of membership and pay a reduced amount in union dues.

They want to be able to both opt out of membership in the union and a significant portion of union dues, but to still be able to vote for union officers and direct the union (which they’ve chosen not to join). In other words, they want the full benefits of a union without having to pay for them. And they are asking the federal courts to intercede and say that the First Amendment guarantees them that right.

“The complaint equates joining the union with ‘giving up’ First Amendment rights.” Seattle University School of Law professor Charlotte Garden explained to In These Times. “But joining or not joining are both exercises of the right of free association. It seems that the plaintiffs wish their choices were different—and that they could join the union on their own terms—but I can’t think of any other circumstance in which an individual would attempt to bring a First Amendment claim to force a private association to change its terms of membership.”

In other words, Bain not only wants to have access to what the union wins in contract negotiations, which she of course receives, but she also wants all the privately held benefits unions offer to their own members as well. This takes non-union members leeching off their fellow workers to a whole new level. To say that it’s a violation of the 1st Amendment to not receive union disability insurance because you are not a member of the union is completely absurd. The legal case also revolves around admitting that unions provide real benefits for workers, but saying that the unions should force employers to grant those provisions and that they violate non-members rights by granting the benefits themselves. Thus, unions do a great job and destroying unions is part and parcel of the same argument.

But of course Michelle Rhee will do anything to destroy teachers’ unions. And as for the Supreme Court, well, I’m not sure there is any argument too ridiculous for the 5 Republican justices if it serves their agenda of destroying workers’ rights. If the case goes there, I get scared.

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  • So does this mean I can demand to vote in NRA elections without purchasing a membership?

    Or am I thinking too small? Can I demand to be allowed to vote in Congress? Can I get franking privileges? Can I get a pension? To deny this to me is denying me my rights to free speech!

    • Derelict

      You write that sophistry as snark, but the Roberts Court is way too likely to read that as deeply reasoned legal thinking upon which major precedent should be set.

      However, that major precedent will be a one-case-only, double-tap, no backsies Indian giver decision that can’t be used for any other purpose not found within the tenets of whatever conservatives are upset about RIGHT NOW!!!!

    • postmodulator

      The conservative movement doesn’t care about consistency. The conservative movement doesn’t care about consistency. I’m not sure how much clearer they can make it.

      I know it’s frustrating. It feels like we used to be able to debate things, and now we can’t. We can catch them in all the inconsistencies we want, but if they can find a way to but their boots on our necks, they will do that.

      • witlesschum

        I know, but it makes me feel a little Vitter about things.

        • MeDrewNotYou

          I see what you did there. +1, as the kids say.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Perhaps it also means that I have a First Amendment right to prevent any corporation whose products I buy from donating money to any candidate or cause I don’t support? Somehow I don’t think the Supreme Court would look as kindly on that argument.

  • LeeEsq

    I believe that people refer to this type of behavior as wanting to have your cake and eat it to.

    • Scott Lemieux

      “I’ll take your money, but I’m not going to plow your driveway.”

      • LeeEsq

        Thanks. You made me realize that a witter comment would be “And the conservatives accuse us of free-riding.”

  • Manny Kant

    How is there even a federal issue here? My understanding was that labor law for public employees of state and local governments are entirely under the jurisdiction of state law. Is the argument that there’s an equal protection violation, or something?

    • RabbitIslandHermit

      Somehow it violates her first amendment right to freedom of association. No, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

    • Joseph Slater

      The claim was brought under the First Amendment.

    • ploeg

      Anti-union groups have been arguing in the courts, with varying degrees of success, that unions violate workers’ First Amendment rights by charging dues. Behind this argument is the idea that money is speech—a concept that the Roberts Court has accepted wholeheartedly—and the requirement that workers pay union dues or fair share fees is a violation of these workers’ First Amendment rights.

      That’s your federal issue.

  • Becker

    Doesn’t the money unions use for political contributions come from their PACs rather than their general funds? I didn’t think dues money was mixed in with the politcal stuff.

    • Hogan

      It varies.

  • Joseph Slater

    What’s astounding about this claim is that for almost all intents and purposes, unions have to give full representation rights to agency fee objectors (and, in “right to work” jurisdictions, even to those who pay no dues at all). Unions can’t discriminate against folks paying less than full or no dues in grievance/arbitration matters, or in contract terms. There are a couple of places where unions can require membership, however: e.g., to vote for union officers, you must be a member.

    Also, I highly recommend anything/everything Charlotte Garden has written/said on this (and, for that matter, other) topics.

    • Linnaeus

      What’s astounding about this claim is that for almost all intents and purposes, unions have to give full representation rights to agency fee objectors (and, in “right to work” jurisdictions, even to those who pay no dues at all).

      The way that antiunion organizations try to deal with this is to say that the real problem is union exclusivity.

  • DrDick

    The mind she boggles!

    • rea

      She doubtless will vote to increase her benefits, paid for by increasing dues.

  • MPAVictoria

    You know I wonder if, in 20 years or so when we are living in our coming grimdark, meat hook future, these people will look back and regret the role they played in destroying the middle and working classes and creating a permanent ruling class of evil oligarchs?

    /Nah. They will probably just blame it all on stupid liberals and non-existent unions.

    • postmodulator

      I think there’s a decent chance they’ll blame us for not trying hard enough to stop them. Or they’ll lie. Remember how hard it was to find a Bush voter in October 2008?

    • efgoldman

      They will probably just blame it all on stupid liberals and non-existent unions.

      Also the melanin-enhanced. Always blame the melanin-enhanced.

    • Woodrowfan


  • William Berry

    That’s some sexist shit right there, Loomis.

    You wouldn’t have posted her pic if it weren’t for the coke bottle figure.

  • Hayden Arse

    If you want to kill the unions, and are willing to fight a multi-front, (teach for America, vouchers, charter schools, etc.), take-no-prisoners approach, wouldn’t vexatious litigation that costs the defendants time and money have to be a part of that war? In light of the history, is there any way that this was filed in good faith? I sincerely hope that there is recourse against the plaintiffs in this case, because it sure sounds to me like this is a bad faith filing. Can we get a Rule 11 Motion with treble damages and a side of sanctions please?

    • efgoldman

      I sincerely hope that there is recourse against the plaintiffs in this case, because it sure sounds to me like this is a bad faith filing.

      They’re in the 9th circuit, where the odds are pretty good. Still, it took until January of 2011 for the sanctions against Orly Taitz to finally be settled.

      • brugroffil

        There’s a name I had completely forgotten.

  • Lt. Fred

    Surely it’s equally true that to deny me my right to a law degree just because I haven’t paid for it or done any of the work is a violation of my right to free association.

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