Will SCOTUS Friedrichs Case Lead to Member-Only Unions?

Government employee unions have a lot at stake in Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association—especially access to millions of dollars in compulsory “agency fees” from non-members. Worried about the Court ruling for the plaintiff, some union leaders and left-leaning pundits are considering their options.

One possibility is member-only unions, explored in a November 2015 Century Foundation paper, which notes the advantages for individual union members when unions try to attract them, rather than corral them through compulsory agency dues.

“One benefit to the members-only approach is in order to survive, these unions must be built upon activism, involvement, and democratic governance,” note authors Moshe Z. Marvit and Leigh Anne Schriever. “Further, in order to remain in existence, a members-only union must keep the membership engaged, educated, and active.” (p.9)

University of Chicago law professor Heather Whitney, in an upcoming paper in the N.Y.U Journal of Law & Liberty, argues that Friedrichs may well make member-only unions a necessity in government employment.

Once collective bargaining-related speech is considered political, requiring unions to engage in that speech on behalf of nonmembers (by imposing on them the duty of exclusive representation) should also be considered compelled political speech and compelled expressive association. The same is true of the requirement that they provide services to non-members (the duty of fair representation). (p.7)

Citing Whitney, In These Times labor writer Shaun Richman speculates the practical effects of this:

Non-exclusive representation will … inevitably lead to competitive union situations at workplaces. If a union, for whatever reason, only seeks to represent a portion of a bargaining unit, another organization will come along to recruit the workers who are left out by promising better benefits or an alternative approach to seeking improvements on the job.

This may not be a bad thing.

Competition. What a concept.

For more on the Friedrichs case, see here.

For more on public sector unionism, see here and here.