Friedrichs Decision Is a Blow Against Educational Excellence

 
rebecca_friedrichs

Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran Orange County, Calif., public school teacher.

Today, an evenly divided Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association to permit unions to continue charging nonmembers “agency fees” to cover collective-bargaining activities that the union supposedly engages in on their behalf. About half the states require agency fees from public-sector workers who choose not to join a union.

Not only do agency fees violate the First Amendment rights of workers by forcing them to financially support inherently political activities with which they may disagree (as my Cato Institute colleague Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber explained), but the unions often negotiate contracts that work against the best interests of the workers whose money they’re taking. For example, union-supported “last-in, first-out” rules and seniority pay (as opposed to merit pay) work against talented, young teachers. Moreover, a teacher might prefer higher pay to tenure protections, or greater flexibility over rigid scheduling rules meant to “protect” them from supposedly capricious principals.

Even worse, collective bargaining can come at the expense of students, as Ilya Shapiro and I recently explained:

When schools lack high-quality math teachers because the union contract requires they be paid the same amount as gym teachers, kids lose out. And when that contract has “last in, first out” (LIFO) rules that force a district to lay off a talented young teacher before a low-performing teacher with seniority, students suffer.

Last year, a judge in California struck down such tenure and LIFO rules after finding “compelling” evidence that making it hard to fire low-performing teachers had a negative impact on students, especially low-income and minority students. The judge pointed to research by Harvard professor Thomas Kane showing that Los Angeles Unified School District students who were taught by an English teacher in the bottom 5 percent of competence lose the equivalent of 9.5 months of learning in a single year relative to students with average teachers.

“Indeed,” the judge concluded, “it shocks the conscience.”

Sadly, the deleterious effects of collectively bargained tenure rules can be serious and long-lasting. In a 2012 study of more than 2.5 million students, Harvard professors Raj Chetty and John Friedman and Columbia professor Jonah Rockoff found that students who had just a single year in a classroom with a teacher in the bottom 5 percent of effectiveness lose approximately $50,000 in potential lifetime earnings relative to students assigned to average teachers.

And in a just released study, professor Michael F. Lovenheim and doctoral student Alexander Willén of Cornell found that laws forcing school districts to negotiate with unions had a modest but statistically significant negative impact on students’ future employment and earnings. Adults who had been subject to duty-to-bargain laws while attending grade school worked a half-hour less per week and earned $795 less per year. The aggregate national effect is an annual loss of about $196 billion.

But for Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the Friedrichs plaintiffs would have won. Instead, half the states are stuck with a system that violates the rights of workers and reduces the quality of children’s education, at least for the foreseeable future.

Originally posted at Cato-at-Liberty.

There are 15 comments.

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  1. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    This case affects me pretty directly.  I’m a professor at a state university with a unionized faculty, in a state with no right-to-work law.  I am very determinedly against unions as a matter of principle, and I will never join this one.  I regard the union not as my protector but as an impediment to my career and to the welfare of the students and the college as a whole.  Extra work which needs to be done for the university’s well-being sometimes gets put on hold until the union can negotiate how we’ll be paid to do it.

    But even as a non-member, because of the way the law and Supreme Court precedent is for now, the union is still allowed to seize part of my salary each month and deduct it directly from my paycheck.  They charge me the Orwellianly-named “fair share fee” for the privilege of not joining their union.  I have to file an annual objection with them to get back that portion of my money they spent on political activities (it’s often hundreds of dollars).  I can’t permanently object, and if I’m even a day late with the letter, they get to keep it all.  They’ve been caught misreporting the refundable amounts, too.

    I’ve put up with this blood-sucking organization for thirteen years now, and I’m sick of it.  I was so hoping this case would succeed.  Nuts.

    • #1
  2. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Meaningful school reform will never happen. The public school employees’ unions fight it like Leonidas at Thermopylae.

    • #2
  3. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    Tim H. I wish I had better news for you. Thanks for sharing.

    • #3
  4. Lily Bart Inactive
    Lily Bart
    @LilyBart

    The good guys never seem to win anymore.

    • #4
  5. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Nick Stuart:Meaningful school reform will never happen. The public school employees’ unions fight it like Leonidas at Thermopylae.

    You know, we had a really good shot at making so many things better this year: a shot at getting control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate, and appointing really good Supreme Court justices. And then Trump came along. And we will lose the presidency and the Senate  and possibly the House. And those of us near the top of the economic ladder will continue to do all right; we will pay for private schools and still manage to get some kind of health insurance.  But those who were most in need of help will pay dearly for their choices.

    • #5
  6. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    This is appalling.

    • #6
  7. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    I live in a right-to-work state. I am the union representative in my school. I am one of very few conservative members in my teacher’s union. However, I feel it is important for them to hear my voice, and I speak up at meetings, believe me. You wrote “supposedly capricious principals” as though it is uncommon. My experience in 20 years, and 2 states, is that we teachers often find ourselves deeply grateful for those contracts that save us from the administration’s whims. We’re not working at schools out of the goodness of our hearts. We may love teaching, but we do not love being taken advantage of by administrators.

    Yes, there are rotten teachers, but there are fewer of them than is represented. Most teachers work really hard and are doing well. I spent 18 years being the Mom at my children’s schools before I finished college and started teaching. In all those years, I personally experienced maybe three teachers who needed to do something else and get out of the profession. And, yes, sometimes it was union rules that made it hard to get rid of them. But it wasn’t impossible.

    I am sorry the court decided against this case. Right to work is the answer. Unions do, indeed, negotiate our teacher contracts, and everyone benefits, not just the members. But agency fees are wrong. The union needs to make the case for membership, not just extort money from those who don’t belong.

    • #7
  8. Solon Inactive
    Solon
    @Solon

    I work at a high school in CA.  Check out this quote a teacher at my school sent off in an email to the entire staff:

    “You love a teacher when they’re hiding your children from a crazed gunman in Newton and getting shot while protecting them.  You adore educators when they’re using their body to shield your kids from a falling wall in the middle of a tornado in Oklahoma.  But let that teacher have the nerve to ask for job security, or reasonable pay, or a manageable workload and all of a sudden we’re crazy union thugs.” –Andy Dicker

    My thoughts when I read it:

    • Teachers who have done heroic acts to save children during tragedies are certainly to be praised and honored.  That doesn’t mean that public school teachers in general are doing a great job and deserve more money.  
    • Tenure after two years isn’t enough job security??
    • Teachers are not paid reasonably?  Come on, public school teachers do fine.  They don’t get rich; the pay is reasonable, but not great.  There are other benefits to the job, though, like the satisfaction of helping kids learn something.
    • A teacher’s workload is unmanageable?  Teachers get prep periods usually between 45 and 90 minutes.  That should be enough time to get most of your grading done.  But don’t kid yourself: most teachers leave as soon as the contract allows.  To imply that teachers have an unmanageable workload is really a joke.
    • #8
  9. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Lucy Pevensie: And then Trump came along. And we will lose the presidency and the Senate and possibly the House.

    It’ll be all Trump’s fault. Yep, you betcha.

    • #9
  10. Lily Bart Inactive
    Lily Bart
    @LilyBart

    Cow Girl: My experience in 20 years, and 2 states, is that we teachers often find ourselves deeply grateful for those contracts that save us from the administration’s whims. We’re not working at schools out of the goodness of our hearts. We may love teaching, but we do not love being taken advantage of by administrators.

    You know, most private sector workers don’t have any of these guarantees.

    Most public schools are horribly inefficient.  I’d like to see more private sector options and more parental control – and I’d like to see kids of middle and lower class have these options (vouchers?)

    • #10
  11. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    Cow Girl: You wrote “supposedly capricious principals” as though it is uncommon. My experience in 20 years, and 2 states, is that we teachers often find ourselves deeply grateful for those contracts that save us from the administration’s whims.

    I’m sure that’s true in some instances. And I’m sure it’s also true that there are lots of great principals out there. The problem with union contracts is that they are often incredibly rigid and assume that all administrators would be capricious without such rules in place. For those who prefer the protection of the rules, they can join a union. But for those who trust their principal and want greater flexibility, they shouldn’t be forced to join a union against their will.

    • #11
  12. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    California teacher unions are criminal enterprises–but that’s a liberal state for you.

    • #12
  13. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Jason Bedrick:

    Cow Girl: You wrote “supposedly capricious principals” as though it is uncommon. My experience in 20 years, and 2 states, is that we teachers often find ourselves deeply grateful for those contracts that save us from the administration’s whims.

    I’m sure that’s true in some instances. And I’m sure it’s also true that there are lots of great principals out there. The problem with union contracts is that they are often incredibly rigid and assume that all administrators would be capricious without such rules in place. For those who prefer the protection of the rules, they can join a union. But for those who trust their principal and want greater flexibility, they shouldn’t be forced to join a union against their will.

    But wait, most principles came from the teacher ranks (not to mention another example of government negotiating with itself). And why does unionization have to be state-wide rather than district-to-district or school-to-school. Treating all schools the same: Beverly Hills H.S. vs Alturas grade school. Ridiculous.

    • #13
  14. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Tim H.:But even as a non-member, because of the way the law and Supreme Court precedent is for now, the union is still allowed to seize part of my salary each month and deduct it directly from my paycheck. They charge me the Orwellianly-named “fair share fee” for the privilege of not joining their union. I have to file an annual objection with them to get back that portion of my money they spent on political activities (it’s often hundreds of dollars). I can’t permanently object, and if I’m even a day late with the letter, they get to keep it all. They’ve been caught misreporting the refundable amounts, too.

    I read this with the same sick feeling I got from the “How he gonna get his money” thread. It boggles my mind that anybody thinks this is okay.

    • #14
  15. erazoner Coolidge
    erazoner
    @erazoner

    I was exasperated by how our local PBS affiliate in San Diego (KPBS) reported this per curiam decision: as “victory for California teachers” and delivered with a smile of satisfaction. As she read the report, the announcer more accurately said that the “teachers union” had “won” a case in the Supreme Court regarding the collection of dues. No mention was made of who the actual plaintiffs were (California teachers) and who the defendants were (public employee unions), else the actual report would have had to lead with quite the opposite of what was conveyed.

    California teachers didn’t win, the unions did. California teachers (at least the good ones I know) lost.

    • #15
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