An Ohio lawmaker wants to solve unions’ biggest complaint about the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association lawsuit in case the petitioners win.
Rebecca Friedrichs and several other California teachers received a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in January, and it appeared likely they would prevail in their attempt to end mandatory union “fair share” fees for public employees.
But after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly, the Court issued a split 4-4 decision. Lawyers for the petitioners have asked for a new hearing once a replacement for Scalia is confirmed.
If the Court rules in favor of Friedrichs, public employees in Ohio and other states would gain the ability to opt out of union membership without being forced to pay fair-share fees. This would result in unions being required to provide representation to nonpaying workers.
State Rep. Jim Butler wants to change state law so Ohio’s public employee unions don’t have to represent nonmembers who don’t pay fair share fees. He thinks now is the time to act, before a Friedrichs decision sets new precedent.
“The time to do this is now, because once there’s a Supreme Court decision one way or another, the winning side will get a lot more entrenched,” he said.
“Most people would agree that you shouldn’t be forced to provide a service you aren’t paid for,” Butler added.
The idea is similar to Worker’s Choice, a labor reform package developed by F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director for the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Butler’s proposal would have no impact on unions’ ability to take mandatory fair share fees — but the Friedrichs petitioners argue such fees violate the First Amendment because public employee unions are inherently political.
A win for the Friedrichs petitioners “would be, essentially, national right-to-work” for public employees, Butler said. Although private-sector union laws are determined at the federal level, states are largely free to define their own public-sector union laws.
Ohio is not one of the nation’s 26 right-to-work states, and current state law allows forced dues and forced representation for public employees. Neighboring Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia have all enacted right-to-work since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011.
In Ohio, Butler said, the Friedrichs case threatens to put public employee unions in a position where they “would still have to represent every worker in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether they pay a fair-share fee or not.”
Unwanted representation is a problem for workers and unions alike; union officials contesting right-to-work laws often argue that ending mandatory fees creates “free riders” who get union representation without paying for it.
As a result, Butler’s idea has broader support than proposed changes to labor union laws typically do.
“I’ve talked to members on both sides of the aisle and I’ve talked to union representatives,” he said. “This is something that could receive bipartisan support.”
Butler, a Republican, hopes Republican leadership in the Ohio General Assembly will take action on his proposal in the near future.
Butler has been considering an amendment to end forced representation in the absence of fair-share fees since last year’s budget negotiations, and has submitted the idea to Ohio House leadership for further discussion.
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