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The following article about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was written before the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13.

How does the death of Justice Scalia, whose staunchly conservative voice foreshadowed defeat for public employee unions, affect the outcome?  More than likely, it increases the chance of a 4-4 Supreme Court decision in the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to stand. However, the Supreme Court may hold the case over for re-argument once a new justice is confirmed. The Court may also dismiss the Friedrichs case and issue no opinion. Whatever the result, we will keep you updated.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Could Weaken Public Sector Unions

By Richard Felton, Esq.

Public sector unions are under attack, and with them, the voice of working people. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) is a lawsuit brought by 10 California teachers and a teachers group, The Christian Educators Association International,  that is to be ruled on by the Supreme Court of the United States. The goal is to overturn a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision—Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—that allowed government worker unions to collect Fair Share fees from non-members to cover the costs of collective bargaining. 

Friedrichs versus California Teachers Association
The concept of Fair Share fees is that everyone who benefits from union representation should pay his or her fair share for the cost of those benefits, such as higher salaries, better working conditions, and health and retirement plans—those items that fall under the umbrella of collective bargaining. But, the plaintiffs argue that collective bargaining is inherently political because it affects public policy on education as well as tax dollars. “Forcing” someone to pay for political choices that they don’t agree with is contrary to the rights of free speech and free association, they say.

The California Teachers Association disagrees with that notion. In a recent issue of California Educator, the group’s monthly publication, they write, “No one is required to join a union, and no one is required to pay any fees that go to politics or political candidates. But, by law, unions must represent and bargain for every worker, whether they join the union or not.”

According to the California Teachers Association, the case is “about wealthy special interests that want to shift the balance of economic power in their favor, and make it even more difficult for working people to come together, speak up collectively, get ahead and help create an economy that works for everyone….” 

Labor fears that the Supreme Court, which must issue its ruling on or before June 30, 2016, seems poised to rule against the California Teachers Association. If it does so, it will impact negatively all public-employee unions in the 23 states that allow for the collection of Fair Share fees. These unions (for teachers, nurses, public safety officers…) would remain legally obligated to represent workers, but many workers would become “free-riders”—benefiting from the representation without paying for it.

There are many, including Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, who don’t believe this is a constitutional-rights issue. In his column on the group’s website, he wrote, “Let us be clear: Friedrichs isn’t about the First Amendment it is about undermining this country’s labor unions because we are the last great defenders of working people and the middle class. The far-right forces behind the lawsuit despise unions because it is our collective voice and collective action that prevent them from further enriching themselves at ordinary American’s expense.”

Since their inception, labor unions have instilled democracy and brought justice into the American workforce. We at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP have spent more than 30 years fighting alongside our union brothers and sisters—including CTA members—for the rights of workers, and feel strongly that the Supreme Court should rule against this attack on public-employee unions. We will keep you updated on events as they unfold.    


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