California Teacher Sues Union Over Push to Defund School Police

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March 17, 2021

A California teacher is suing his union of 38 years over its call to defund the school police department as part of its plan for "safe and equitable conditions" to return to in-person learning.

The suit alleges that high school teacher Glenn Laird tried to leave United Teachers Los Angeles after the union voiced its support for defunding the Los Angeles School Police Department. The union blocked Laird from leaving because of the membership agreement he signed, which only allows members to exit during a one-month window. Laird claims he did not agree to that clause of the agreement.

"I decided if there ever came a time where I wanted to leave the union, I wanted it to be on my timeline, so I crossed out the annual 'opt-out' window language before signing the new card," Laird told the Washington Free Beacon.

Although Laird eventually resigned from union membership during the two-week period, he is suing UTLA to receive compensation for dues that were deducted from his paycheck during the contract dispute. The teacher says the union unlawfully used his money to fund anti-police rhetoric, to which he is "morally opposed."

Laird cited his experience with violence and shootings on campus to explain his support of the school's police department. "For over 30 years I was a proud member of my teachers' union. I served as a campus rep for several of those years and not that long ago you could even find me on the picket line. That is, until my union demanded that we defund the police," Laird said. "I couldn't in good conscience be a member and pay dues knowing that my money was supporting an anti-police agenda."

Last summer, in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd, union leadership announced their support for defunding the school district's $70 million police department. A union report on reopening released in July 2020 included a call to "shift the astronomical amount of money devoted to policing, to education and other essential needs such as housing and public health." The study claimed that expanding health care coverage through Medicare for All and placing a moratorium on funding for charter schools would help schools safely reopen.

The union did not respond to a request for comment.

"Mr. Laird is grateful to have a police presence on campus to keep his students and himself safe when unfortunate, but unavoidable, violence occurs," Laird's complaint states. "Based on this opposition to UTLA's speech, Mr. Laird decided to terminate his UTLA membership and end his dues payments."

The Freedom Foundation, which is representing Laird, says the union's limited opt-out window is unconstitutional.

"We don't believe the 'escape window' would be constitutional under any circumstances," said Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe. "But it's even more unenforceable if the worker clearly did not agree to be bound by it in the first place."

UTLA's anti-police rhetoric has already impacted city schools. In June 2020, the union called for the abolition of the Los Angeles Unified School District's police department in order to help "dismantle white supremacy." Less than a month later, the district voted to reduce the police department's budget by 35 percent, a $25 million cut. The union endorsed the move and promised further action, touting the vote as "a huge first step in the campaign for police-free schools and ground-breaking in terms of our movement for supporting black lives in our schools."

The cuts to Los Angeles school police come amid a nationwide debate over safely reopening schools as the pandemic subsides. The Los Angeles school district is one of the largest school districts in the country that has announced plans to resume in-person learning. The school district and the UTLA announced a tentative agreement to begin bringing students back to the classroom in mid-April. The return is dependent on teacher vaccinations and declining case rates.