When Both Sides Are Missing The Point
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Friedrich v California Teachers Association. The case has been billed as a 1st Amendment test but it looks a lot more like a political act designed to break unions in general beginning with the California Teachers Federation. This suit’s focus, however, is whether all teachers must pay dues when some teachers may not support the union’s political spending.
Given the Justices questions and comments, pundits have concluded the Court will change precedent and prohibit the California Teachers Association from demanding “dues” from its members. Were the Court’s political make up 5 Democrats – 4 Republicans, there would be little question on how the Court would hold. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the Court has not been concerned with observing “stare decisis” (past decisions). I guess being an “activist” court is just how one looks at it.
The GOP has been trying in many States to weaken, if not break unions, particularly public sector ones. Democrats almost always the beneficiary of union donations, not surprisingly try to maintain legal protections for unions. Are both sides missing the point?
There is little ambiguity that Unions, particularly Teacher unions, argue for equal treatment for all members regardless of merit. This adamant position runs in the face of the need for school innovations given conditions in many of our schools. Unions points to the contract and says “no way, end of discussion”.
School Administrators are not without criticism too. Administrators have tried to use test scores, for example, as a teacher rating method. This demand has come without the Administrators laying out how or why a student’s score measure a teacher’s performance.
There is no easy answer to this stand off. Unions have historically gotten the power they now possess because management had been unwilling to pay adequately or provide safe work places. Unions, so to speak, have balanced the tables.
Breaking the unions is a potentially dangerous event. “Spanking” the union, figuratively, might be acceptable but outright defanging the union will leave all teachers (and subsequently all workers) relatively defenseless against the whims of cash strapped municipalities and capricious school boards. Instead of improving education, this could be a faster route to the bottom.
The Supreme Court, as in Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, would have done itself more honor by avoiding hearing the case at all. It appears, however, that enough Justices are more concerned with their Constitutional interpretation (instead of accepting past decisions) and seem in no way to care about unwanted consequences.