A number of California teachers have filed a lawsuit against the biggest teachers union in the state – the California Teachers Association – to be allowed to stop paying union dues because the forced payment is a violation of their free speech rights, The Associated Press reports.
The ten teachers are being represented by the conservative Center for Individual Rights and are hoping to bring down laws that allow unions to collect dues even from people who don't wish to join and who don't share the union's ultimate mission.
Specifically, the plaintiffs are opposing the fact that at least part of their dues goes towards union-sponsored political activities rather than contract negotiations and efforts to act an an ombudsman to the employees.
CTA spokesman Frank Wells said in an email that the suit is a "baseless challenge" intended to dilute worker rights.
The lawsuit comes about five months after California voters defeated Proposition 32, which was an attempt to starve unions of the tens of millions of dollars they collect from employees or members to use to finance campaigns and political organizing.
Overall, there are about 2.4 million union members in California, and that money has helped make teachers, prison guards and other public workers some of the most feared institutions in Sacramento, where labor has longstanding ties with Democrats who now control both chambers of the Legislature and every statewide office.
The lawsuit, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court, names not only the National Education Association but also the local teachers unions. The plaintiffs argue that the opt-out process which the unions have in place in order to allow members who don't support the union's political agenda to withdraw is insufficient, difficult and frequently makes people trying to take advantage of it feel intimidated.
Although the union spokesman reiterated that joining the union is not mandatory, and he further disputed the assertion that the "opt-out" process can in any way be considered cumbersome.
"The lawsuit seems self-contradictory. It acknowledges that those represented by unions can opt-out of paying â¦ and then complains that they are somehow forced to pay for them," Wells wrote.
In a statement, the center said the fees can be diverted to various programs outside contract talks, including funding what it called a politically biased union magazine.
"Individual teachers have a constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to join a union and financially support its efforts," said Terry Pell, president of the center. "The government may not compel teachers to provide financial support to policies with which they fundamentally disagree."