State Legislatures Can Dampen Friedrichs Ruling’s Blow to Worker Freedom

Today, the Supreme Court announced a 4 to 4 spilt decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a decision that keeps alive the Abood precedent that forces non-union members to pay union dues as a condition of employment with state and local governments.

Government unions had a lot at stake. With the spilt decision, government unions will continue to collect millions of dollars in compulsory dues payments from librarians, bus drivers, teachers, and all sorts of other public employees across the country.

The plaintiffs, public school teachers from the state of California, argued that forced union dues payments amounted to forced political speech and a violation of their First Amendment rights. In essence, the teachers argued that government unions are inherently political organizations and that the representation that the teachers are forced to pay for supports political activity at the collective bargaining table.

As I explained in a previous post:

Negotiations between unions and state and local government officials should not determine whether public funds go toward contributing to public employee pensions, other municipal needs, or necessitate the raising of additional funds. Those decisions should be left exclusively to elected officials, not private organizations like government unions.

While the outcome of the case is unfortunate, the forced union dues problem is one that state legislatures can mitigate with other reforms.

First, state legislatures may prohibit forced union dues payments at a condition of employment. As of 2014, 27 states already prohibit this practice (see map here).

Second, as my colleague Ivan Osorio pointed out in a previous post, members-only unions may be the way to go. Members-only unions are just what they sound like. Only members are represented by the union and, therefore, pay dues. There is no forced political speech and workers who want unions get them.

Third, if an outright ban on the practice is politically impossible in a state, then union recertification may be a better route. Union recertification laws require unions to run for reelection occasionally to prove that workers still want union representation.

This reform is needed because most public employees at the state and local level never voted for the union that represents them, which makes forced union dues payments even more reprehensible. See this study by Heritage Foundation labor policy analyst James Sherk, which notes as an example, “Fully 99 percent of the teachers in Florida’s largest school districts had no choice about being represented by their union.”

So, even if forced union dues are still law of the land, at least with union recertification laws on the books, a majority of the workers want to pay a union for their services.

Forced union dues payments are an injustice to public employees. However, state legislatures have options to alleviate the concerns brought by the plaintiffs in Friedrichs