Michael Q. McShane

Historically, the Show-Me Institute has rarely joined lawsuits or amicus briefs in Supreme Court cases. But this week, along with several other state public-policy research and educational organizations, the Institute filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. When you hear the story of Rebecca Friedrichs, you will know why.

Ms. Friedrichs is a 27-year veteran teacher who currently works in Buena Park, California. According to an interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation, she first encountered the teachers union when she tried to get her school to deal with a colleague who had been abusive to students. As she said, “They couldn’t get rid of her because of teacher tenure. . . . There was absolutely nothing, from my perspective and what I was told, that I could do.”

Friedrichs tried to work with her union, volunteering within it and working to convince her colleagues to be more amenable to some education reforms (like school vouchers) that might give more opportunities to her students. And what, according to Friedrichs, was the union’s response? “They punished me for standing up. . . . For that whole year, for that whole fight, I was treated like dirt.”

Teachers are too important to be treated like that.

Ultimately, what is at issue in this case is very simple: the right of free association, a right protected by the First Amendment. Ms. Friedrichs and thousands of public servants like her do not want to be forced to support a union that does not represent their interests or values.

As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation points out, for much of the history of the American labor movement, private unions supported that right for public employees. In 1959, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council wrote “In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress—a right available to every citizen.” Why? “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” That was George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, in 1955.

The issues associated with public unionism are clear. Institute researchers and scholars have written about the dangers of allowing government unions to elect their bosses and thus sit on both sides of the table during negotiations over salaries and benefits, pensions, hiring and firing procedures, and a variety of other policies (like school vouchers) that might only tangentially affect their membership. You can find a small sample of our work here, here, and here.

A victory in the Friedrichs case would strike a blow for individual freedom; it would recognize the millions of teachers and other government workers across the country not simply as interchangeable widgets who all think the same way, but as individuals with independent ideas and preferences.

This kind of fight is worth fighting. We’re happy to join it.


(Click on the link below if you would like to read the full text of the amicus brief.)


About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.