‘Opposite Day’ Logic on Mandatory Union Dues


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Don’t miss Dmitri Mehlhorn’s wickedly funny and brilliant takedown of Rich Kahlenberg’s “opposite day” logic on mandatory union dues:

Although Richard Kahlenberg is an acclaimed progressive scholar, I had no idea of his wicked brilliance until I read his recent 5000-word opinion piece on the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. CTA. At first, I thought he was defending the respondents, the California Teachers Association. But as I read his column, I realized that every single point he made was the opposite of reality — often in ways that would be obvious to a well-read high-school student, let alone a Century Foundation Senior Fellow.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that Kahlenberg was engaging in devilishly clever satire.

By setting forth the criteria by which the Friedrichs case should be judged, and then using “opposite day” logic, he was subversively making the strongest possible case for Rebecca Friedrichs. Since his prose is so sincere and subtle, I almost missed it. This column is a public service for those of us who are literal-minded enough to want the actual facts associated with each element of Kahlenberg’s framework.

Here’s a taste of one of the many claims Mehlhorn eviscerates:

“Schools for Democracy”

Another Kahlenberg headline, that public unions are “Schools for Democracy,” is doubly satirical. The teachers unions are well known to be antidemocratic as both models and actors.

  • Only a small percentage of teachers, roughly 20% and often less, actually vote in internal union elections;
  • Teachers use their political power to push for school board elections to be off-cycle from high-turnout elections, depressing voter engagement so as to ensure their members’ influence over school boards;
  • The unions promulgate codes of conduct, pushing their members not to criticize union stances and often bullying pro-reform teachers;
  • The California Teachers Association, in particular, is known as the 800-pound gorilla of Sacramento, bullying legislators and other interest groups.

See what Kahlenberg did there, by calling them “Schools for Democracy,” when the unions produce terrible results for democracy? They are bad schools! Get it? This guy is a genius.

This guy is a genius indeed — Mehlhorn, that is. Check out the rest of his post over at Citizen Stewart’s “Citizen Ed” blog.

And on a related note, over at The Seventy-Four, Mehlhorn provides a very thoughtful and thorough analysis of the Friedrichs v. CTA oral arguments earlier this week. In short: the unions were dejected and for good reason. The strongest argument that the pro-mandatory union dues side could marshal to peel Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Kennedy away from a pro-Friedrichs majority was that it would overturn a precedent set 40 years ago (Abood) and upon which tens or even hundreds of thousands of contracts rely. However, the Friedrichs petitioners responded convincingly that there is also a mountain of First Amendment jurisprudence that conflicts with Abood, and that siding with the unions would also entail overturning longstanding precedent.

Moreover, as Mehlhorn points out, even a pro-union lawyer conceded during oral arguments that there may be a “need to adjust” where the line is drawn between what counts as political or non-political activities (under Abood, the unions can charge non-members for the latter but not the former), and the need for such judicial tinkering further erodes the case for stare decisis.

Of course, the justices could change their minds between now and when they issue a decision, so the Friedrichs petitioners shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet, but the unions might want to start thinking seriously about how to persuade workers to financially support them in the absence of government compulsion.


One Response to ‘Opposite Day’ Logic on Mandatory Union Dues

  1. Greg Forster says:

    ALELR reports that the national unions are drawing up their budgets on the assumption of no agency fees.

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