US Supreme Court to Tackle Mandatory Union Fees Case in Early 2016


The Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case will be heard by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States during this term. This case challenges rules in 23 states including California, New York, and Illinois, according to Steve Malanga of The Wall Street Journal, that require government workers to pay sizable fees to unions they do not wish to join.

Labor unions call these “fair share fees” since nonunion workers still benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining efforts such as the negotiation of a wage increase. The California Teachers Association argued to the Supreme Court last week that fees such as these are crucial “to avoid labor strife, to secure economic stability, to ensure the efficiency and continuity of state and local governments.”

In 1977, the court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that the Michigan law requiring teachers to pay the union’s “agency fee” even if they were opposed to the union was to be upheld. Unions have for decades been showered with a consistent revenue stream from non-members because of this case.

Illinois Republicans have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case urging the Supreme Court to allow states to decide on the question of fair share dues or agency fees. Mark Fitton reports for Illinois News Networks that in many quarters this battle is between unions and right-to-work advocates.

Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Winnetka, however, is fully in support of doing away with mandatory union dues or state employees fees. But although the Republican lawmakers may differ with the governor on whether the court should strike the law, they are for allowing states to “structure public sector labor relations as [the states] see fit.”

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) explains on its blog what the public should know about the high court case from its point of view.

Kenneth Quinnell quotes a statement from a 9/11 first responder that the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association “seeks to undermine the effectiveness of unions by allowing some people to avoid paying their fair share.”

Another worker, according to Quinnell, said, “A bad decision from the court could limit working people’s ability to negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

On the United Federation of Teachers website, the union’s president Michael Mulgrew writes that the modern system of labor law and collective bargaining is facing perhaps its gravest threat since its inception in 1935.

He alludes to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 which allowed states to pass “right-to-work” laws prohibiting unions in those states from collecting union fees from non-members.

He explains that in the current case the plaintiffs are arguing that money is speech and demanding that nonmembers pay fees to unions violates their First Amendment rights. Mulgrew counters by saying that agency fee payers have the ability to choose not to have their payments spent on the unions’ political activities. Mulgrew also stated:

“The right wants to dismantle decades of labor law — laws that protect working Americans’ right to organize unions — and to overturn decades of collective bargaining and progress for working Americans. They want to destroy our unions and the middle class so that they can enrich themselves. But we fought too hard and sacrificed too much to win what we have today — and we will not sit idly by while it is taken from us. If the Koch brothers and their ilk want a fight, we’ll give them one.”

Charles G. and David H. Koch own Koch Industries, the second-largest privately-held company in the US. The company is committed to free societies and free market principles and support the people who are  defenders of the same.