Aided by an anti-union legal organization, a group of teachers sued the California Teachers Assn. on Thursday, trying to force it to return a $60 dues increase that is financing its fight against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election agenda.
The plaintiffs attempted to announce the lawsuit at a news conference in front of the CTA’s Sacramento headquarters, but were drowned out by chanting union supporters. The event was the latest confrontation over Proposition 75, which would require unions to obtain public employees’ permission each year before using their money for political purposes.
The measure has drawn perhaps the most intense opposition of the eight propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Unions said it was an attempt by the initiative’s proponents to hobble them in their fight with the governor, who wants to change teacher employment regulations and restrain state spending on education and other programs. Schwarzenegger said his changes were necessary to cure California of its chronic fiscal problems.
The teachers’ union has been the largest funder of opposition to the governor, having spent $51 million so far this year on politics and lobbying.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose by the nonprofit National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is based in Virginia. The 37-year-old organization has fought a number of cases on behalf of workers who do not want to be required to join unions.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six California teachers. Only one is a member of the union, but all are being charged a $60 annual assessment for the next three years to help underwrite the union’s campaign.
The union, which this month started deducting an extra $6 monthly, says it will refund the money to anyone who asks, but not until October or November. The plaintiffs call that a coerced loan.
The plaintiffs held their news conference in front of the union’s Sacramento headquarters. The union responded with about 50 teachers who shouted “Shame on you” throughout the news conference, with some carrying signs saying, “Don’t silence our voices.” The speakers could not be heard even by those standing a foot away.
“To be silenced like that was very intimidating,” said Judith Liegmann, a fifth-grade teacher in Sunnyvale who was near tears after the event. She and the other plaintiffs discussed the lawsuit in a subsequent meeting with reporters away from the union headquarters.
“All teachers in their training and their experience in the classroom know that one of the things they need to teach their children is to listen politely to the ideas of their fellow students and give everybody a chance to talk,” she said. “And I see teachers out there breaking every rule of civility.”
Paula Caplinger, a Sacramento band teacher and member of the union board of directors, said the counterdemonstration was justified.
“This is our building,” she said. “They chose to have a press conference in our frontyard. What did they expect?”
She added: “Proposition 75 is all about silencing workers’ voices. I guess it’s a little taste of what a silenced voice is like.”
The union said the suit was a disingenuous attack. Caplinger called the monthly $6 assessment “a hefty latte and muffin.”
The union held its own news conference Thursday in Los Angeles to denounce another November ballot measure, Proposition 74.
Endorsed by the governor, the measure would lengthen the probationary period for teachers and make it easier to dismiss them.
Saying that the governor was engaged in a “witch hunt of California educators,” the teachers union lambasted his campaign for soliciting anecdotes about bad teachers on its website.
The campaign removed the posting Wednesday.
Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this report.