U.S. Supreme Court to Take on Government Union Power

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert to a case that could give all public employees right-to-work protections. If SCOTUS rules in favor of the plaintiff, California teacher Rebecca Friedrich, government unions would lose their power to compel non-members to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The case, Friedrich v. California Teachers Association, challenges under freedom of speech and association grounds “agency fees,” which require non-member government workers to pay union dues to cover the cost of collective bargaining. This arrangement was established under the 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

At the heart of the case is worker freedom. No worker should have to pay tribute to an organization with which they disagree in order to keep their job, especially organizations like government unions that are inherently political. Moreover, most public employees never voted for the union that they financially assist against their will. Research finds that the share of employees that voted for their union is less than 10 percent.

Although public employees may opt out of union dues payments that go toward outright political lobbying, government unions currently may compel non-members to pay for collective bargaining. However, public-employees should not have to support collective bargaining because it is also political activity.

As the Center for Individual Rights, the public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrich, explains:

“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.”

A recent SCOTUS case, Harris v. Quinn, should provide optisim that the high court could strike down compulsory union dues payments in the public sector. In the majority opinion, which ended forced union dues payments for home care workers that received funding from the state, Justice Samuel Alito strongly criticized Abood, calling that ruling “questionable” and “anomalous.” The Justice almost went as far as inviting a direct challenge to Abood.

Just as the Harris v. Quinn ruling freed thousands of home care and child care providers from financially assisting government unions and political speech with which they disagree, a favorable ruling in Friedrich v. California Teachers Association could free millions of state and local public employees from having to do the same.