Public sector unions celebrated on March 29 when the Supreme Court split evenly and allowed a lower court ruling to stand in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association. The sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia left the high court split 4-4. The right of the teachers union to collect fair use fees from nonmembers was at stake
The decision upheld the union’s stand that the fee went only to fund activities from which all employees’ benefit, such as collective bargaining, aid in filing grievances, and lobbying on behalf of all workers. Agency fees do not fund political activity, which undercuts Friedrich’s argument.
This issue is critical for public sector unions. Allowing workers to opt out of agency fees would turn those who decline to join a bargaining unit into free riders who still benefit from union pursuits on behalf of all workers, while the unions would lose millions of dollars in fees, crippling their ability to function. The IAFF, an MTD affiliate, warned that had Friedrichs won, “anti-union groups were set to put in motion plans to solicit public union members to stop paying dues.”
According to the CWA, this lawsuit was “financed by anti-worker corporate interests who have been working for years to stifle the voices of teachers and other public workers and weaken their collective bargaining rights.”
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka issued the following statement immediately after the ruling’s announcement, “Today, working people have persevered in the face of another attack on our rights. All over the country working people are showing that we won’t allow wealthy special interests or their politicians to stand in our way to join collectively and make workplaces better all across America. In the face of these attacks we are more committed than ever to ensuring that everyone has the right to speak up together for a better life.”
Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez applauded the decision, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is an important victory for public employees, for their right to have a voice at work, for their right to stand together and speak up for the things that matter to them, their families and their communities.”
Labor vowed to continue defending public sector workers. Public sector employee unions are gearing up to campaign for a pro-labor justice. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “The decision will send more workers into the streets to campaign for a presidential campaign who protects workers’ rights.”