Former high school teacher Glenn Laird, who two years ago shook the pillars of one of the largest and most powerful teachers’ unions in the United States, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), has now elevated his case to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
In the 40 years he spent teaching high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Laird was more than a respected, much-honored educator. He was also an enthusiastic union member and active officer.
That changed, however, in June 2020 when the union announced it had launched a campaign to defund the presence of armed police officers on school grounds.
Laird, who had witnessed countless fights and several stabbings over the years, lost a student to gun violence during the 1980s. He vividly recalls that during all those incidents, school police were on scene in moments and helped to save the lives of students, staff, and teachers.
These incidents left him with a profound appreciation for law enforcement in general and an armed presence on campus in particular.
So, Laird was disappointed to see that the same union he had proudly served and picketed on behalf of began supporting the “defund the police” movement he knew he couldn’t join.
The final straw came when Laird observed UTLA officials appearing on Zoom video conference calls wearing anti-police T-shirts, accusing police officers of being murderers and a force for evil in society.
All funded with his dues money.
In June 2020, Laird made the decision to terminate his membership and dues deductions.
Two years earlier, in its landmark Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court had addressed just such actions when it affirmed that public employees cannot be forced to join or support a union as a condition of employment.
UTLA responded by agreeing to end Laird’s membership but continued to deduct dues from his wages until February 2021, insisting his request hadn’t been filed during a union-created annual two-week opt-out “window.”
In early 2018, realizing it was likely to lose the looming Janus decision, UTLA began pressuring teachers like Laird to sign new dues-authorization forms that, for the first time, incorporated language specifying that opt-out requests would only be processed two weeks a year.
Laird, however, carefully redacted the provision with a black marker before signing and returning the document to the union, exempting him from its limitations.
Or so he thought.
The Freedom Foundation, a national watchdog specializing in fighting the abuses of public-sector unions, in 2020 filed a lawsuit on Laird’s behalf alleging, “UTLA’s continued deductions and expenditures forced Laird to betray his convictions, demeaning his status as a free and independent citizen.”
Earlier this year, however, the United States District Court for the Central District of California sided with UTLA, concluding the mere existence of a prior agreement between Laird and UTLA for union membership and dues’ deductions, no matter its actual terms, was sufficient to find that no constitutional analysis of Laird’s claims was necessary.
But this cannot be correct.
Had the court bothered to review the terms of Laird’s union membership agreement, it would have realized UTLA had no contractual authorization from Laird to continue the deductions, and such a lack of contractual authorization meant that the only basis to take Laird’s wages was the state system Laird challenged as unconstitutional.
The case has now been appealed to the 9th Circuit and, depending on the outcome there, could eventually find its way to the same U.S. Supreme Court that fully intended to safeguard the First Amendment rights of individuals like Glenn Laird when it decided Janus two years ago.
In retirement, Glenn Laird has become far more essential to the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) than he ever was as an active employee and union member.
Not financially, of course. The roughly $800 a year he once surrendered in dues is a drop in the ocean when you consider the union has 35,000 just like him still on the hook.
But as an example to all the others, no one is currently more critical to UTLA’s very existence than Laird — precisely because he no longer wants any part of it.
With billions of someone else’s dues dollars at stake, it’s little wonder UTLA is hell-bent on making an example of Laird for others contemplating the same course of action.
What couldn’t be glossed over quite as easily, though, is another ruling deferential to the influence of powerful labor unions rather than the U.S. Constitution.