By Evan Grossman | Watchdog.org
Labor unions are going on trial later this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning it will hear the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which seeks to eliminate agency shop fees that unions take from non-members. The game-changing lawsuit argues that forcing public employees to pay fees to unions they do not support is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The announcement was made during Tuesday’s “cleanup” session before summer break. The next regular SCOTUS conference is scheduled for September 28 and a decision on Friedrichs is expected by June 30, 2016.
“This is an excellent first step,” Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, told Watchdog. “We should know within a year if the justices will do the right thing and let all teachers and other workers have a choice whether or not to pay dues to a union, as is done in 25 states. We have choices everywhere else in life, why not with union participation?”
The Friedrichs case would determine if workers should be required to pay “agency shop” fees to labor unions if they choose not to be a member. In many states, employees who chose not to associate with unions are still forced to pay a smaller membership fee for representation in collective bargaining.
Some teachers choose not to join teachers unions in many states for various reasons. Some do not believe in labor unions altogether, while others choose not to support unions because of their political views.
Union advocates have called the case an attempt to strip unions of power and clout. Typically huge Democratic and progressive political supporters, unions have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on elections. The California Teachers Association spent more than $200 million on political issues from 2000-2009.
Two years ago, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and the Center for Individual Rights argued she and other teachers should not be obligated to pay even the smallest fees to a union they don’t agree with politically because it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“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,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights. “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. Rebecca Friedrichs and the other California teachers we are representing are looking forward to their long overdue day in court.”
In 2013, Friedrichs, a fourth-grade teacher, resigned her membership in the California Teachers Association. Even though she is not a full-share member, Friedrichs has about $1,000 involuntarily taken out of her paycheck each year that goes to CTA for collective bargaining and funding political activities like fighting school vouchers.
Agency fees or “fair share” fees were created by SCOTUS in 1977 with its Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. SCOTUS will consider two issues in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association: overruling its Abood decision and determining if agency shop fees are a violation of the First Amendment.
— Bob Bowdon (@BobBowdon) June 30, 2015
“When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a joint statement.
“America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures,” they said. “Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”
Friedrichs, one of 10 plaintiffs in the case, said she was intimidated and bullied after she shunned the union two years ago and lost her professional liability insurance and her contract vote.
“The Supreme Court has long allowed government unions to force employees to pay a union for representation, even while calling it an obvious First Amendment violation,” said David Osbourne, general counsel at the Fairness Center. “This case could be a game-changer. The Supreme Court should take this opportunity to correct the injustice and stop government unions from forcing independent hard-working Americans to surrender a portion of their paycheck to support a union for which they didn’t ask.”
The court’s decision could lead to challenging times for labor unions. If it allows employees to opt out of paying anything to labor unions, they could suffer from a decline in membership and revenues.
“If Friedrichs wins, government unions could no longer force employees to pay dues or fees,” Osbourne said. “However, government unions may still be allowed to force representation on employees who did not want to be represented by the union. The two don’t go hand in hand.”
This story was edited on June 30, 2015 at 11:12 a.m. to include comments from labor union leaders and the Fairness Center.