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'Students First' right wing lawsuit against agency fees hits LA teachers union, AFT and NEA... Rhee's 'Students First' continues union busting push, and the law firm handling the litigation is the same firm that did the Vergara lawsuit...

Michelle Rhee's "Students First" astroturf group continues its attack on public schools and teacher unions with the lawsuit in California against agency fee. One of the ironies of the timing of the lawsuit is that it comes a week after a bunch of principals and teachers in Atlanta are jailed for test cheating, while the same cheating in Washington, D.C. while Rhee was chancellor there has done unpunished because of Rhee's billionaire backers and corporate "school reform" clout.A major lawsuit has been filed against the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) by a small group of teachers who claim that their union dues are going for political activities. The lawsuit, filed on Friday, April 9, 2015, is part of the well-financed right wing attack on unions that includes the current attempt by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner to stop unions from collecting agency fee. "The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based organization that has opposed candidates and measures backed by teachers unions nationwide," a Los Angeles Times report (see below) notes, "while also working to pass laws that curtail union power."

Michelle Rhee's "Students First" is an "astroturf" group. "Astroturf" are phony 'grass roots" groups financed by millionaires and billionaires that claim to represent the poor and working class. Rhee's "Students First" was founded by Rhee after she was ousted as chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools. She vowed "Students First" would raise a billion dollars to fight for the policies that she had implemented in D.C. The group continues its attack on public schools and teacher unions with the lawsuit in California against agency fee.

One of the ironies of the timing of the latest Rhee lawsuit is that it comes a week after a bunch of principals and teachers in Atlanta are jailed for test cheating, while the same cheating in Washington, D.C. while Rhee was chancellor there has done unpunished because of Rhee's billionaire backers and corporate "school reform" clout.

Reactionary Michelle Rhee arranges herself carefully for TV.Although Rhee has been promoted by the corporate media (including a Time magazine cover and one on Newsweek, too) as a "radical" pushing necessary "reforms," her entire career has been as a corporate stooge. After being a failure as a teacher in Baltimore during a couple of years at Teach for America, she was tapped by the corporate talent scouts to head the so-called "New Teacher Project." That group was designed to bad mouth veteran teachers and promoted the silly idea that only "new" teachers could really cope with the challenges of urban teaching to improve "outcomes" for poor, especially minority children. At each point in her career, Rhee would fail, but each failure was touted by her friends in the corporate media as a success.

Then she became "chancellor" of the D.C. schools and implemented the same frenzied bullying tactics to raise test scores that brought shame to Atlanta. Rhee's main success in Chicago was increasing the number of non-regulated charter schools and succeeding in the biggest racist purge of black teachers anywhere outside Chicago. When her corporate sponsor, mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his job, mainly because of the schools and Rhee, Rhee resigned. Within a year after she left (amid praise for her heroic actions from the corporate media, from Newsweek to The Wall Street Journal) an investigation by USA Today revealed that the same criminal cheating that had beset Atlanta under Beverly had hit D.C. The difference was that in Georgia the governor, reading the same news in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, demanded to know if it was all true. A year later, after a massive government investigation, Atlanta's superintendent, principals and teachers were indicted for criminal activities in rigging test scores.

By contrast, those who govern D.C. (which includes President Barack Obama) covered up for Rhee. No further investigation was done into the Rhee years at head of the D.C. schools, and so there were no indictments as a result of the same findings from the USA Today investigation that had been found in Atlanta.

Reactionary Ann Coulter arranges herself carefully for TV.And so, Rhee continued, through "Students First," to raise money, push privatization and charter school programs, and attack teachers. In that context, the current lawsuit is just the latest act in the ongoing melodrama of corporate America and Michelle Rhee. Like many of her reactionary counterparts (several come to mind, most notably the mini-skirted Fox News crazy "author" Ann Coulter), Rhee will probably fade with age. But that hasn't happened yet.

And so the latest is the California lawsuit, filed on behalf of four "teachers," that we can read about in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere...

LOS ANGELES TIMES STORY ON THE LITIGATION:

Teachers sue to join union without paying for political activities, by Howard Blume April 8, 2015 Los Angeles Times... Teachers sue to join union without paying for "political activities." Unions claim new suit is attempt to weaken them in the name of protecting teacher rights. The firm behind a case that could limit teacher job protections is now taking on issues with union dues. Another in the endless string of anti-union, anti-teacher lawsuits that pretend to protect worker rights.

An advocacy group has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop teachers unions in California from using member dues for political purposes unless individual instructors provide their permission.

The effort, if successful, could weaken the influence of these unions by limiting their spending.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based organization that has opposed candidates and measures backed by teachers unions nationwide, while also working to pass laws that curtail union power.

Reactionary Campbell Brown arranges herself carefully for TV.In the suit, four teachers, including two from the Los Angeles Unified School District, assert that union rules and state laws violate their 1st Amendment rights to free speech because they cannot belong to the union unless they allow a portion of their dues to be spent on political activity. The teachers claim they should be able to join without subsidizing viewpoints they may oppose.

As part of protecting the right to free speech, the 1st Amendment does not permit forcing an individual to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support, the suit states.

The defendants are the two largest teachers unions in the country as well as the two largest in California. Also being sued are two union locals where three of the teachers work, including United Teachers Los Angeles. The suit also names the superintendents of L.A. Unified, West Contra Costa Unified and Arcadia Unified school districts.

Union leaders characterized the legal action as an attempt to limit what labor can accomplish against well-funded business interests and other opponents by cutting off funding.

This lawsuit is attempting to use the 1st Amendment to stifle speech, not enhance it, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

In California, although teachers are not compelled to join a union, they must pay a portion of membership dues as agency fees to cover their estimated share of costs when the union negotiates contract terms on their behalf.

The remaining portion, which the plaintiffs pegged at 30% to 40%, can be spent on political activities. Union leaders pointed out that contributing this portion is optional.

The California Teaches Assn. doesnt require anyone to join the union or spend any dues money to support political candidates, said the group's president, Dean E. Vogel. Those who want to opt out of spending dues money on political candidates simply have to check a box on a CTA membership form. Educators can also decline union membership and opt out of paying for any issue not related to union representation. The lawsuit, however, asserts that opting out and therefore declining to join the union means giving up advantages of union membership.

Resigning union membership has significant adverse consequences for a teacher, the complaint said. Union members, for example, have access to insurance and disability programs as well as legal representation.

"Across California, public school teachers are being forced to choose between important employment benefits like paid maternity leave and their own political values," said plaintiff Bhavini Bhakta, an Arcadia Unified teacher, in a statement. "It's unfair. I appreciate my union and want to stay a member. But I don't want to be forced to fund political activities that contradict my core beliefs about education.

The lawsuit argues that federally guaranteed 1st Amendment rights apply in this case, and that they should override practices in California.

"The 1st Amendment does not tolerate this unequal treatment based on a teacher's political views," said attorney Theodore J. Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which is handling the case. The Gibson firm also is managing the high-profile Vergara litigation, which resulted in an L.A. Superior Court judge last year throwing out key teacher job protections on the grounds that they were detrimental to students. That ruling is on appeal.

The latest litigation 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, said Jeff Freitas, secretary treasurer of the California Federation of Teachers.

StudentsFirst was started by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It is now headed by Jim Blew, who formerly oversaw education initiatives for the Walton Family Foundation.



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