From the May 18, 2015 issue of Update
Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to be filed against teacher unions specifically, but public employee unions in general. This lawsuit has been brought forward by StudentsFirst, the organization founded by former Washington, D.C., schools' chancellor Michelle Rhee, on behalf of four public school teachers. Named in the lawsuit are not only CTA, but UTLA, NEA, CFT, AFT, United Teachers of Richmond and various school superintendents. The plaintiffs (teachers from Los Angeles, West Contra Costa and Arcadia unified school districts) are challenging the law that allows unions to call them nonmembers because they only pay the agency fee. Those who only pay the agency fee exempt themselves from the political activities of the union, but also from some of the perks of membership such as voting on the contract, representation during conferences, extra insurance, etc. Bain and the other teachers in the suit say that it is unfair and unconstitutional (violates their free speech) for them to be denied any benefits of membership as a result of their decision to pay a reduced amount in union dues. In essence, they want to be able to both opt out of full membership in the union and pay significantly reduced dues, yet be able to vote for union officers and participate in other decision-making activities, which union rules currently prohibit.
Antiunion groups have been arguing for years that unions violate workers' First Amendment rights by charging dues. However, the question in this case is not that teachers can opt out of membership and pay a reduced amount of dues, but what benefits members and nonmembers receive from the union. Moshe Z. Marvit, a Philadelphia labor and civil rights attorney and Century Foundation Fellow, says that it is a strange First Amendment argument, that "...you should still have the right to vote in an organization that you don't want to be a part of...It is a strange irony of this case that the plaintiffs readily admit the myriad benefits that come with union membership, but argue that it is unfair to require them to be members of the union to get those benefits."
StudentsFirst, which is financially backing the suit, is funded by a virtual who's who of billionaires and right-wing education reform foundations that include the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge-fund managers David Tepper and Alan Fournier, Charter Schools USA and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Attorney Marvit concludes, "...this case...is litigation funded and promoted by antiunion groups that is part of a general strategy to defund unions, destroy solidarity and erase the benefits of union membership..."