California teachers sue union over dues, politics

Rebecca Friedrichs figures 30 years is long enough when it comes to paying her dues.

A fourth-grade teacher in Anaheim public schools, Friedrichs has long had problems with the way the California Teachers Association spends the union dues it takes in and the way it goes about collecting the money from the rank and file. Now she and nine other teachers from around the state are fighting back. The 10 public school teachers allege in a lawsuit that the CTA, the largest affiliate of the National Education Association, has no right to spend the rank-and-file's money on political campaigns with which members disagree.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Friedrichs told “I’ve begrudgingly paid union fees for years.”

In the case, currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Friedrichs and the other teachers say the union forces them to participate in collective bargaining, pressures teachers to campaign for selected political candidates and unlawfully collects dues.

“It’s more than just the fees,” Friedrichs said. “I’m bothered with the ins and outs of collective bargaining. Everything they [the CTA] do is political.”

Under California state law, a union that is recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative for a school district, such as the CTA, can enter into an organizational security or “agency-shop” agreement which, in lay terms, means that while it is not mandatory for a teacher in the district to become a member of the local union, they must pay fees to the union for it to negotiate on their behalf. The rule is a condition of employment for all teachers.

Friedrichs alleges that CTA members and non-members alike pay the full annual dues, which total around $1,000, with non-members only able to request reimbursement of the portion deemed separate from bargaining expenses. The CTA does little to make sure they are aware of how much money they should be paid back.

“They make it very hard for (a) teacher to find out how to get their money back,” she said. “My husband, who is also a teacher, paid for 30 years and thought he was paying only the bargaining fees. He was never told what refunds he was entitled to. He was never able to get that money back.”

Officials for the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association did not respond to requests for comment.

Friedrichs adds that the difficulty surrounding refunds is only one example. She said teachers often endure bullying from union reps during meetings if they speak against the CTA’s stance on political campaigning or stances on school policies.

“I know many teachers who are afraid to come forward and speak out,” Friedrichs said. “I’ve been feeling the political correctness my entire career.

“They would come to staff meetings telling you how to vote, how to campaign,” she added. “It’s always based on fear. They tell you, ‘If you don’t do this, there will be no funding and you won’t have a job.’”

The plaintiffs, who are backed by The Center for Individual Rights, are hoping that the court of appeals, like the district court before them, will rule quickly and allow the process work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Appellants have filed this appeal in hopes of persuading the Supreme Court to overturn those binding decisions,” reads a line from the filing to the 9th Circuit.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, says that the issues are bigger than California. The same union tactics are used throughout the nation, he said.

“We asked for them to rule against this quickly,” Pell said to “This is not specific. It’s a national concern. We want to challenge the Supreme Court precedent that allowed these issues to happen.”