California Teacher Unions Face New Front With Dues Battle

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California teacher unions face a new challenge from the same corporate law powerhouse that last year won a first-of-its-kind challenge to tenure rules that secure teacher's jobs.

The law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of four teachers who contend they are denied benefits, including full maternity-leave compensation, if they opt out of paying for union political expenses. The law firm said the case is supported by StudentsFirst, which describes itself as an education reform organization.

“The California system unconstitutionally punishes teachers for choosing not to pay the political portion of their dues, depriving them of important employment-related benefits and voting rights,” Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., the lead attorney for the teachers, said in a statement.

Boutrous, who helped Wal-Mart Stores Inc. win a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking a national sex-discrimination lawsuit, prevailed in 2014 against the unions and California in a trial on behalf of students objecting to the tenure system.

Broader Effort

The unions alleged that that case was part of a broader effort to undermine organized labor. The new lawsuit is no different, according to Jeff Freitas, secretary treasurer of the California Federation of Teachers.

“This is yet another in the endless string of anti-union, anti-teacher lawsuits that pretend to protect worker rights by undermining the most important organization that defends worker rights,” Freitas said in an e-mailed statement.

“At a time when education unions are fighting for adequate funding for the classroom and for services to meet our students’ needs, this is essentially an attack on our ability to work on behalf of our students.”

Billionaire Backers

Billionaires including former Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, homebuilding and insurance entrepreneur Eli Broad, and the Walton family that founded Wal-Mart, have been pushing for public schools to be run more like businesses. Charter schools, independent of local school districts and typically staffed by non-unionized teachers, have been one of their favorite causes.

Claudia Briggs, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Bain v. California Teachers Association, 15-cv-02465, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).