Photograph by Estella Hemp
Every year teachers make jokes about how they “certainly do not teach for the money,” as there is so little to be had. Many say that teachers need to be paid more, and the main way for teachers to attain more favorable conditions is through labor unions. Up until 2018, non-union workers were required to pay fees to public sector unions. However, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 17, 2018 in Janus v. AFSCME that non-union workers can not be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. The Janus Supreme Court decision will affect Berkeley teachers by reducing their ability to advance their agenda by weakening the teachers’ union.
Forcing non-union workers to pay into organizations they may not concur with is unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the rights of individuals to speak freely. Making those who object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities is an infringement upon the First Amendment. Compelling them to subsidize private speech violates the free speech rights of non-union members. But this is not to say that government workers such as teachers will not be negatively impacted.
The Janus decision certainly weakens teachers’ unions. According to a National Public Radio (NPR) article, the Janus decision will cause the teachers’ union to lose members, lose money, spend more on political lobbying, and more. Weakening public sector unions will hinder the ability of government laborers like teachers to fight for workplace rights.
Matt Meyer, Vice-President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT), says, “This is really not just an attack on workers, but part of a strategy to destroy the public sector by attempting to weaken the collective voices of those who work for the public good.”
Masha Albrecht, a mathematics teacher at Berkeley High School, thinks the teachers’ union will be weakened, but for a somewhat different reason. She says that there is a great deal of complacency and corruption in union leadership.
“A lot of these representatives do absolutely nothing,” said Albrecht in respect to Berkeley in particular. “I know that there’s a few of us in the school who have been very active in the labor issues who are considering withdrawing our dues and leaving our union.”
The Janus decision will negatively affect Berkeley teachers to a considerable degree. However, Meyer is optimistic, saying, “We have found that Unions are organizing more than ever, not only keeping their memberships high, but also building power.”
Nonetheless, the Janus decision will undoubtedly weaken teachers’ unions, but on the other hand, will benefit many and preserve one of the most important principles in the United States Constitution.