July 6, 2015
The Supreme Court agreed June 30 that it will hear an attempt to strike down the law that public-sector unions can require workers who are not members to pay fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining. In the case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, three California teachers claim that requiring public employees to pay anything to a union is “state-compelled speech” that violates their First Amendment rights.
Backed by national anti-union groups, they are asking the Court to overturn its 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that fees for collective bargaining were legal as long as nonmembers didn't have to pay for the union's explicitly political activities. The plaintiffs argue that even contract negotiations with governments constitute political activity. “In this era of broken municipal budgets and a national crisis in public education,” their brief says, “it is difficult to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money cash-strapped local governments should devote to public employees.”
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris urged the Court not to take the case, writing that mandatory agency fees “prevent the unfairness and conflict” that would come from workers refusing to pay anything to unions that are legally required to represent all employees in a bargaining unit, and that the case “offers no sound basis for testing whether there is a constitutionally relevant line between conditions of employment and matters that are principally issues of public policy.” The Court will hear arguments in the fall. Read more