Supreme Court’s Friedrichs decison allows unions to continue collecting fair share fees

Efforts by wealthy extremists to undermine the power of public sector unions fizzled on March 22 when the US Supreme Court announced a deadlocked 4 to 4 vote on Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association (CTA).

The tie vote leaves intact an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Appeals Court decided that it would not overturn a Supreme Court precedent established 39 years ago that Friedrichs was seeking to void.

In 1977 the Supreme Court in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education ruled that agency fees, also known as fair share fees, that non-members pay to public sector unions for services provided to them by the unions are valid as long as the fees are used “for collective-bargaining, contract-administration, and grievance-adjustment purposes.”

The Friedrichs plaintiffs were seeking to overturn a California law that requires public sector employees who are not union member to pay fair share fees.

Unions said that the purpose of the suit was to undermine public sector unions and weaken their ability to improve public services and protect employees who provide these services.

“The US Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs.”

“This marks a significant defeat for the wealthy special interests who want to hijack our economy, our democracy, and even the United States Supreme Court” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “Millions of teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public service workers will continue to be able to band together in a union in order to speak up for one another, improve their communities, and hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.”

The Friedrichs lawsuit was sponsored by the anti-union Center for Individual Rights, which has also sponsored legal action to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The American Prospect reports that the Center’s funding comes from billionaires Charles and David Koch and a slew of business-connected right wing foundations such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.

Fair share fees have long been seen as a fair compromise that balances a workers’ right not to join a union with a union’s right to be compensated for services provided.

Unions are required to provide services to all workers in a collective bargaining unit regardless of whether an employee is a member of the union. That means that where a collective bargaining agreement is in effect union members and non-members share the same wages, benefits, and protections negotiated by a union.

Without fair share fees the number of free riders, those who enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without paying for them, would likely increase, weakening the power of unions and diminishing their ability to negotiate and enforce fair collective bargaining agreements.

A union’s ability to negotiate fair collective bargaining agreements can provide benefits that go beyond employees on the job.

“Through negotiations between my union and the school district, we were able to secure smaller class sizes for our students,” said Reagan Duncan, a classroom teacher from Vista, California and member of CTA. “Smaller class sizes help teachers focus on each student’s individualized needs and allow for more one-on-one attention. Parents often thank us for being their advocates in securing classes that allow their children to learn freely and to love what they are learning.”

While the Supreme Court decision gives public sector unions some breathing room, there are other cases that the Court may consider that could overturn the precedent established in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education.

Also, the Center for Individual Rights has said that it will petition the Court to rehear Friedrichs.

Whether this decision will be allowed to stand will depend a lot on who fills the current open seat on the Supreme Court.

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