The Supreme Court May Be About to Hand Public Unions a Big Problem
The Supreme Court looks as if it may be about to hand down a ruling that will substantially weaken public-employee unions by changing the way they raise money. At issue is the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ. that allowed unions to charge non-union members for the cost of representing their interests along with those of union members.
At a brief, one-hour hearing on Monday, January 11 in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the justices appear to favor 10 teachers who argued that having to pay “fair share fees” to the California Teachers Association (CTA) violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to contribute to a union that takes political stands with which they disagree. Unions often endorse ballot initiatives and candidates, most frequently pro-union Democrats.
The CTA contends that nonunion members can’t be allowed to be “free riders” who benefit from union protections without contributing financially. Currently, if a majority of public employees at a site belong to a union, the union is designated as the bargaining agent for them. Of the 325,00 teachers in California, nine percent haven’t joined the CTA.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, they’ll be overturning laws in 23 states, including California, that allow unions to collect fees from non-members for the services a union nonetheless provides them. These services include representing them in grievance proceedings and negotiations over wages, hours, and working conditions. Union lawyers for the CTA and the Obama administration assert that since members of the unions pay more in the form of dues that cover the costs of political activities—and since non-members can specifically opt out of such activities by signing a form — the current fees don’t violate nonmembers rights.
In addition to teachers, police, firefighters, healthcare workers and other government employees will be affected by the court’s ruling.