SCOTUS will decide this year
At issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (SCOTUSblog page) is whether public sector employees (in this case, teachers in California) can be forced to pay fees to a union they choose not to join.
In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public employees who don’t want to join a union can still be charged fees to cover the cost the union incurs in collective bargaining activities that would benefit all employees in the bargaining unit. These fees are often referred to as "fair share" or "agency" fees that cover the union’s costs to negotiate a contract that covers all the public employees, even those who are not union members. However, employees who are not members of the union cannot be required to pay fees that a union would use for political activity like union organizing.
The current case was brought by a group of California teachers who chose not be members of the California Teachers Association union (with others), who object to having to pay any fees at all to the teachers’ union. Their argument is that with public employees, everything the union does is inherently political, even contract negotiations. They contend that this is the case because the salaries and benefits that the union negotiates come out of the public budget. As a result, forcing them to support that inherently political activity violates their First Amendment rights because they are forced to identify with a particular political cause and position – whether they agree with that cause and position or not.
Politico sums up the early perception of which way the judges will fall on this issue. And the NYT's Adam Liptak sums it up here.
So, what will a decision for Friedrichs mean? If public employees who chose not be members of the union don’t have to pay the agency fees, it will most likely contribute to the already shaky financial situation of many public sector unions. Currently, the public sector has the highest number of unions in place. Even though these fees already cannot be used for political lobbying, etc., less money overall would probably mean a lesser role on the political stage for these unions. In the 2012 election cycle, it’s been estimated that unions (in total) spent $1.7 billion. That’s a significant investment to get politicians to pimp your cause.
It’s still too early to tell which way this will go, but early indications are that public sector unions will take a beating in this decision. And that, in my opinion is a very good thing.
****Next week, I’ll be summarizing some of the employment-related workplace bills that have been presented at this year’s Maryland General Assembly – so far!****