U.S. Supreme Court Could Free Government Workers from Forced Union Dues

Public-sector workers could soon gain the freedom to decide whether or not to pay union dues if the U.S. Supreme Court hears the impending case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Ten teachers from California, represented by the Center for Individual Rights, are challenging, under freedom of speech and association grounds, “agency fees” laws, which require government workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. This arrangement was established under the 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

The lawsuit intends to reestablish choice in public employment by relieving workers from the burden of forced union dues with organizations they may not agree with. This is important because government unions and collective bargaining in government are inherently political.

As the Center for individual Rights points out:

“Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. Requiring teachers to pay these “agency fees” assumes that collective bargaining is non-political. But bargaining with local governments is inherently political. Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.”

With the U.S. Supreme Court deciding on whether to hear the case by April, several organizations that support worker choice have submitted friend of the court briefs.

One organization, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, argues that Abood was wrongly decided and should be overturned. In Abood, the Court ruled that government unions may charge non-members an “agency fee” to defray the cost of collective bargaining but may not charge for blatantly political activity that employees may object to.

But in recent years, Abood has faced scrutiny for obvious shortcomings by the Supreme Court. As Mackinac’s brief details, “This Court recognized there would ‘be difficult problems in drawing lines between collective-bargaining activities, for which contributions may be compelled, and ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining, for which such compulsion is prohibited.'”

In a press release on its amicus brief, The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation notes, that in the 2012 case, Knox v. SEIU, the Supreme Court called forced union dues in the public-sector “something of an anomaly” and that it violates workers’ First Amendment rights.

As reported by The Daily Caller, The NRWLD brief argues:

This case is also a suitable vehicle for declaring un-constitutional union requirements that nonmembers object to the seizure of nonchargeable fees in order not to pay those fees… These ‘opt-out’ requirements are intrinsically unlawful because unions lack the lawful authority to seize nonchargeable fees from nonmembers in the first place.

While it is unclear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case, there is a legislative solution available to states to free public employees from paying for union services they do not want. In Michigan, State Rep. Gary Glenn introduced a bill that would “ban all public sector unions from representing anyone who is not a dues-paying member of that union.”

In essence, the legislation accomplishes the goal of Friedrich v. California Teachers Association by only allowing government unions to represent voluntary dues paying members thereby ending the practice of “agency fees.”

So whatever the Supreme Court decides, public employees could soon find themselves with new found choice in their employment and relief from the burden of supporting unwanted government unions.