Sunday, January 31, 2016

Public Employee Unions In A Nation of Free-Riders

You might have hoped that the Supreme Court would have, by now, run out of opportunities to destroy the rights of average Americans.  On the strength of this case that is currently before the Court, among others, you would be wrong.

The case in question, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was brought by a group of California public school teachers who, having enjoyed the considerable benefits of belonging to a union that protected and promoted their rights in the workplace, felt that it was "unfair" for that union to advocate policies with which they disagreed.  They are, in fact, not even members of the union. What they specifically object to is the fact that, as non-union members enjoying the benefits of unionized membership, they are required to pay an "agency fee" to the union, and the proceeds from this fee are subsequently used for the advocacy to which they object.

As is indicated in the linked article (as well as this one published by, the Court's Republican majority appears ready to rule in the teachers' favor and, in the process of doing so, overturn 40 years of precedent on the subject.  This appears to be completely consistent with Chief Justice John Roberts' "balls and strikes" view of his job:  call balls on precedents he likes (see;  the Citizens United case and its relationship to Buckley v. Valeo), and strikes on ones he doesn't (the current case).  Stare decisis, on this Court, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

But, for me at least, it is impossible to escape the hypocrisy of the teachers, and other similar efforts to enjoy the benefits of progressive policies and institutions without bothering to shouldering any of the costs of paying for them.  It is no different from the modern attitude toward taxation and welfare-state benefits.  Let someone else pay for my Medicare, my Social Security, and so on.  Because this is America.  What's mine is mine, and therefore someone else should pay for it.  That is the degraded shadow of what once was considered to be American exceptionalism, the frontier perspective that we all have the right to protect the lives we built in the wilderness.

Except that there is no frontier, and their is no wilderness.  Not any more.  We live in a modern, integrated economy, where everyone is inherently interdependent on everyone else.  My spending is your income, and vice versa.  Your public benefits are also my public benefits.  They would not exist without contributions from all of us, and all of us have the right to benefit from them if needed.  In fact, we all benefit from them anyway, because of the extent to which they improve the quality of life for all of us.

If the teachers in question truly want to be free of the alleged "burden" on their public speech, why teach in a unionized workplace?  Why not teach in private schools, or work as private tutors?  For that matter, why not organize and set up their own schools, free of associations with people and ideas they don't like?  No laws prevent them from doing this.  They only thing stopping them is their lust to do well without shouldering any of the burden for helping everyone to do well.

The teachers in Frederichs are no different, sadly, from the majority of Americans.  Like the members of that majority, the teachers are simply free-riders, trying to maximize their own personal advantages at the expense of the power of others to express their own views and win better lives for themselves in the process.  This stems from the modern conservative view that no one can take care of you like you can take care of yourself.  That view, which will no doubt become even more powerful after the Court's seemingly inevitable ruling in favor of the teachers,

It's a far cry from the patriotism of liberals like myself, who still respect the need to work with others with whom we disagree.  And this after our tax dollars were used to pay for a war based on a lie.  We love America even when we disagree with many of its people and policies.  On the other hand, if Americans like the Frederichs teachers have their way in all things, one is forced to wonder whether, one day, there will be an America left.

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