Daily Management Review

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case on Public Sector Union Fees


07/15/2015


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take upon the case of non-union teachers contesting the need to pay union dues. The non-members feel that union dues are an infringement on their First Amendment Rights of free speech.



The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up a case that could possibly weaken the public sector unions. The state of California’s requirement, of non-union public school teachers to pay the equivalent of union dues, put this challenge in motion as a violation of free speech rights of the non-members.

The teachers want the court to overturn a decades old practice, which allows public sector unions to collect fees from non-union workers as long as the money isn’t utilised for political activities.

The case has surfaced in a time when Republican politicians have taken on public and public sector unions, which generally associate with Democrats. One of the most notable Republicans in this endeavour has to be the Governor for Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who in 2011 signed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Democrat Kamala Harris, the California Attorney General, in tandem with unions backed by the California Teachers Association, had requested the court not to hear the case.

On the Supreme Court’s decision, Unions released a statement, saying, "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America - that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life".

This case gives the justices a chance at upending a precedent of a significant labor law judgement from 1977. In the case of Abood versus the Detroit Board of Education, the high court had ruled that such payments from non-union members to the unions, did not violate the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment free-speech guarantee, as non-members would benefit from collective bargaining, without any extra costs on their part.

Certain members of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing, including Justice Samuel Alito, have criticized the precedent.

According to the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, this case would affect over 7 million public sector employees covered by collective bargaining agreements in more than 20 states.
 
Representing the plaintiffs is the non-profit law firm, The Center for Individual Rights, which welcomed the Supreme Court’s action.

"This case is about the right of individuals to decide for themselves, whether to join and pay dues to an organization that purports to speak on their behalf. We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation on the basis of the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment," said Terry Pell, the group's president.

By California's "agency-shop" system, public school teachers who aren’t associated with unions must pay a fee equal to union dues. Non-members can later seek a refund of the portion the union spent on lobbying and activities unrelated to collective bargaining or contract administration.

The Supreme Court gave a 5-4 ruling in a 2012 case indicating that the Abood and succeeding cases have infringed upon the First Amendment Rights of non-members.

The past year, the court declined to extend the Abood precedent to Illinois home-health workers. The ten teachers, including lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, sued the unions in 2013 saying the "agency-shop" system violated their free speech rights. After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the unions, the teachers appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court would issue a ruling on this case in its next term (starting on coming October and ending in June next year).

The case is Friedrichs et al, v. California Teachers Association, et al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-915.
 

References:
 
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/30/us-usa-court-unions-idUSKCN0PA1PD20150630







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