Michael Hiltzik is a business writer for the Los Angeles Times. He seems to understand education issues better than many other journalists. In this post, he explains the animus and ideology behind a lawsuit against teachers’ unions in California known as Bain vs. California Teachers Association, et al. In this suit, a group of four teachers are suing six California and national teachers unions, claiming that their free speech rights are denied when the union takes positions they don’t agree with. Hiltzik understands that the goal of the lawsuit is not to protect free speech, but to deny the unions’ right to speak for its members.

Follow the money.

“The lawsuit purports to defend the “free speech” rights of its plaintiffs, four California schoolteachers. But its real goal is to silence the collective voice of union members on political and educational issues. Its lesson is simple: If you don’t like the decisions your organization or community reaches through the democratic process, just refuse to pay for them.

“The plaintiffs in Bain vs. California Teachers Assn., et al, say the conditions of union membership coerce them into supporting “political or ideological” viewpoints they don’t share. StudentsFirst, an education reform group supported by wealthy hedge fund managers and the Walton family, is bankrolling the lawsuit. StudentsFirst was founded by onetime Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who, before leaving the organization in 2014 under a cloud, established its philosophy that the problem with education is that teachers have too much power and job protection.

“Bain vs. CTA should be viewed in the context of a long war against public employee unions. Among its landmarks were Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2005 ballot initiatives to reduce teacher tenure rights and hamstring public employee unions’ authority to spend member dues on political activity. Both failed.

“The lawsuit’s prime target is the “agency” or “fair share” fee. Under the law and according to a 1977 Supreme Court decision known as the Abood case, workers can be assessed non-member fees to cover solely the cost of negotiations and contract enforcement, without being compelled to join the union and support its political activities with their dues. That’s the arrangement in California. For decades, union opponents have been trying to get Abood overruled. The Supreme Court is pondering whether to hear one challenge from California, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Assn. Bain “helps create a favorable political climate for the Supreme Court” to accept the Friedrichs case and overturn Abood, says Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, a defendant in Bain. Its purpose is “pretty clear,” he says: “The erosion of unions’ ability to be involved with politics.”

If the union-haters get their way, union voices will be silenced, but the well-funded voices of corporate America will not. After the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, muzzling the unions would be another blow against democracy. We are accustomed to the cacophony of divergent opinion. It would be disgraceful if those who defend working people were silenced.