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Mulgrew: New ‘Friedrichs’ headed for Supreme Court

New York Teacher
Tracey Miller of IS 125 in Queens
Miller Photography

Chapter Leader Tracey Miller of IS 125 in Queens asks a question about the original mission of charter schools, as envisioned by former UFT President Albert Shanker.

Call it Friedrichs, the sequel.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the March 22 Delegate Assembly that a new challenge to the “fair-share” fees that public-sector unions collect from workers who don’t become members could reach the Supreme Court by the fall.

“It’s called Janus,” Mulgrew said. “Janus is the new Friedrichs.”

Like Friedrichs, Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) seeks to debilitate public-sector unions by attacking their funding model. Under current law, public employees covered by union contracts are under no obligation to pay for the political activities of their unions. But states may pass laws that allow workers to be required to pay a fee to cover their portion of collective-bargaining costs. Like the Friedrichs plaintiffs before them, the Janus plaintiffs charge that the collection of these fair-share fees violates the dissenting workers’ First Amendment rights.

Janus is also pursuing the same legal strategy as the Friedrichs plaintiffs, encouraging losses in the lower courts in order to fast track its way to the Supreme Court.

“It’s out of Illinois,” Mulgrew said, “and was dismissed by the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] 7th Circuit, putting it on schedule to be on the docket for the Supreme Court this fall.”

By then, Neil Gorsuch — the new administration’s Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia — is expected to be confirmed. He is likely to side with the four justices who were willing to rule with the plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case. The Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on Friedrichs following the death of Justice Scalia.

The changing composition of the Supreme Court is just one of the serious threats facing working families and labor unions following Trump’s election. Mulgrew said much of the UFT’s work in the coming months will aim to “protect New York from what comes down from D.C.”

The Trump administration’s “skinny” education budget includes what Mulgrew called “a billion-dollar voucher program” and cuts to after-school and summer programs [see page 3]. “The budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said there’s nothing that proves after-school programs work, and there is no proof that providing a child with breakfast or lunch at school will help him perform better,” Mulgrew scoffed.

Mulgrew said the hostile climate in Washington, D.C., makes pressing the union’s case in Albany all the more important.

With just days to go before the April 1 deadline to finalize the state budget, he said Senate Republicans were pressing for the elimination of the charter cap and more money for charters at the expense of public schools. Meanwhile, the Senate GOP has rejected any measures to make charters more accountable and their finances more transparent, he said.

“It looks like Betsy DeVos devised it,” said Mulgrew of the Senate’s one-house budget resolution.

The UFT and its state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, launched a campaign to flood targeted state senators with faxes and phone calls imploring them to oppose the pro-charter school plan. The targets in New York City were Republican senators Andrew Lanza of Staten Island and Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who votes with the Republicans.

Mulgrew said the message to state lawmakers is “either you are for public school or you’re against it.”

On the subject of DeVos, Mulgrew said, the work of teachers unions and other public education advocates paid off.

“We now have the most famous secretary of education in history,” he said. “Everyone knows she’s rich and incompetent.”