Posted on Wed, Oct. 26, 2005
Teachers union doesn't speak for all teachers
By Judy Liegmann
In recent weeks, California Teachers Association (CTA) union officials showed the citizens of California their ruthless nature when they did their very best to keep me and my fellow teachers from speaking our views at a news conference in Sacramento.
The screaming and jeering we encountered as we spoke to the media was just a small taste of the intimidation that California teachers face every day in the classroom when they stand up to this union.
Frankly, I've had enough of the CTA's militant brand of politics, and I'm not alone. That's why a group of teachers and professors have joined me in filing a class-action suit against the union for forcing us to pay for their massive $60 million political campaign against Proposition 75 this fall.
As a fifth-grade school teacher in the Bay Area, I am forced to hand over part of my paycheck to the CTA because of California's compulsory unionism laws. Even non-union members like me still have to pay roughly 70 percent of full dues to a union we want nothing to do with. Many teachers don't even know about this right not to join and to pay less than full dues.
Recently, I learned that the CTA officials had decided to increase all teachers' dues by $60 a year, purely for the purpose of fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger's reforms on the ballot this November. They never asked our permission, nor even informed us of the purpose of the new fee. I found out purely by chance. Furthermore, when I asked for the money to be returned to me, CTA officials indicated that I could have to wait one or two years.
At the same time, most of the teachers who are actually members of the union -- more than 300,000 -- haven't the first clue as to how they can get the money back. Union officials won't tell them.
Even if we are able to get the money back in a year or two, forcing us to give a loan to union bosses so they can play politics violates our constitutional rights. An election cannot be undone.
The merits of Schwarzenegger's ballot propositions are beside the point. Union members and non-members should have the right to object to this extraordinary use of their dues.
This outrageous treatment of thousands of teachers like me proves that CTA officials are much more interested in maintaining their political power than in respecting the wishes of teachers they claim to represent.
Our lawsuit, brought with the free legal assistance of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, cites several Supreme Court rulings already establishing that union officials cannot use the forced dues money for political purposes over employees' objections. Clearly, this principle is not being enforced in California, and as a result I am forced to spend a good amount of my time and energy to participate in this lawsuit to reclaim rights that the law is supposed to protect.
We ask the court to order the union to give all teachers in California members and non-members a disclosure of how the funds are being spent and a notice of their right to object. Of course, the union's lawyers are fighting us tooth and nail.
Sadly, teachers like me have little recourse. California's forced unionism laws put teachers in a no-win situation, and the compulsory unionism privileges that union officials enjoy have led to arrogance and abuse.
The best way to solve this problem is for California to end the statewide policy of forced unionism. Then, employees could protect themselves from union abuse and lack of accountability by withholding all financial support. Rank-and-file teachers, and employees in other sectors, would have the ability to keep arbitrary or corrupt union brass out of our pocketbooks.
If teachers had the right to withdraw their financial support from the CTA union, perhaps union officials would actually have an incentive to care about what we think. If teachers had a say, I doubt that the union could get away with appropriating a chunk of our paychecks to play politics on a scale never before witnessed in our state.
JUDY LIEGMANN is a fifth-grade teacher in the Sunnyvale School District. She is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the CTA/CFA unions seeking to block union officials' use of teachers' forced union dues. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.