Behind the Headline: Conservatives and Labor Find Common Ground: Can They Do It Again?

friedrichsOn Top of the News
Conservatives and Labor Find Common Ground: Can They Do It Again?
Weekly Standard | 2/22/16

Behind the Headline
Teachers Unions At Risk of Losing Agency Fees
Education Next | Winter 2016

Could a Supreme Court decision striking down the legality of agency fees for teachers unions be good for unions?

In a thoughtful article in the Weekly Standard, Andy Smarick wonders whether a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. California Teacher Association could cause teachers unions to focus more on the craft of teaching and less on politics.

(Another possibility, of course, is that teachers unions could become more “politically pugnacious” if the only teachers who voluntarily join the union are the most ideologically pure true believers. Smarick refers readers to an article about Friedrichs in Ed Next by Mike Antonucci that makes this point.)

What could a post-Friedrichs teachers union look like? Smarick writes

Though conservatives generally see teachers’ unions as advocates of a retrograde political agenda (e.g., anti-school choice, impenetrable job protections), these organizations can—at their best and when their political activities are put aside—be considerably more. As longstanding associations of professionals, they are able to steward their craft, mentor their members, and develop a deep understanding of and deep relationships with their communities. To the extent they function in this way and membership is noncompulsory (important qualifications, for sure), unions can take the form of Tocquevillian voluntary associations, the building blocks of civil society.

Smarick suggests that Friedrichs “could help untether labor from its progressive moorings and make new coalitions possible.”

As an example, he points to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law was passed, Smarick argues, because “conservatives and teachers’ unions joined forces to end federal meddling in schools.” The new law “assumes the wisdom of local institutions and trusts the judgment of state and district leaders.” If conservatives who believe in decentralization turn their focus to local organizations, they might come to see workers and the voluntary organizations that represent them as allies, he concludes.


For a different take on unions and the Friedrichs case, please see “Teachers Unions At Risk of Losing Agency Fees,” by Mike Antonucci, in the Winter 2016 issue of Education Next and “The Future of Friedrichs” and “Let My People Go” by Josh Dunn.

– Education Next


Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College