North County Teachers Respond to Friedrichs

Two North County San Diego association presidents, Erik Bienke of Del Mar California Teachers Association and Bob Croft of the San Dieguito Faculty Association, responded to a pro-Friedrichs January 26 Del Mar Times commentary by Marsha Sutton. Her positions on public education are well-known by teaching and para-professionals throughout North County San Diego. As expected, her position cast oral arguments in a simplistic false dichotomy of union vs freedom of speech that does a disservice to the complexity and history of this legal issue.  The presidents’ unedited response is below:


In Marsha Sutton’s recently-published commentary on oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case California Teachers Association (CTA) vs Friedrichs, there are several assertions made that are inaccurate and bear clarification.

The goal of all unions is to advance the cause of its membership as the membership defines that cause- and as a democratic body CTA and our local affiliates are no different. Our members come together to fight for smaller class sizes, all day Kindergarten, lesson planning time, competitive salaries and benefits and protections against arbitrary treatment that allow our members to promote the cause of public education without fear of administrative reprisal. Unions create a safe space for working professionals to tell sometimes inconvenient truths about the system without fear of losing their livelihood.

Here are some that were missed:

The ten plaintiffs, including Rebecca Friedrichs, have never been forced to join a union. None of their Agency Fee (dollars charged for bargaining and contract maintenance) can be used for political purposes- only for the services rendered to them. Ms. Friedrichs erroneously states that CTA is using her money to fight the case- by law unions cannot do so.

What should be remembered is that each of the  ten signatories were independently recruited by the Center for Individual Rights- a right-wing law firm funded by, among others, the Koch Brothers, to overturn the 1977 Abood decision. That decision established the requirement that employees who receive the negotiated benefits that a union has been required by law to provide to them- must pay for them. This eliminated the inequity of non-members receiving those benefits without paying- described by the Court in Abood as “free-loading”.

This precedent-setting Abood decision was supported unanimously by the Court in 1977. What will come of the tens of thousands of contracts binding millions of workers to rules established in them in the forty years since the case was decided? Unfortunately there is no clear answer.

And while it has been cloaked in the First Amendment, this case has had not fooled legal scholars. When Justice Alito stated that anything a union does is inherently political in a separate 2011 oral argument, he was chided by Justice Elena Kagan as speaking out of context on a legal point not related to that current case. It was however a signal to right wing institutions and their supporters that the current complexion of the High Court made Abood ripe for overturning.

Now the case has been rushed through the lower courts at a pace troubling to legal scholars. We educators agree with the evidence- and it is clear. This is an attempt backed by wealthy millionaires and billionaires who see unions as the last obstacle to their agenda to silence the voices of working people across America. CTA President Eric Heins put it well, “These same forces lost in the California Legislature, they lost at the ballot box, and now they are using the courts to attack working people.”

Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other working women and men are ready for this battle. We have a message for those same powerful forces whose aim is to drown out the voices of working people: We stand where we always have, with our students and our communities.

Erik Bienke

President, Del Mar California Teachers Association

Bob Croft

President, San Dieguito Faculty Association