Supreme Court Tie Protects Union Fees, but More Changes Are Brewing

By Richard I. Felton, Esq.

Public sector unions can breathe a sigh of relief as the United States Supreme Court voted 4 to 4 in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, affirming  the 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. 

Union Fees and the Supreme Court
But the reprieve will be short-lived as this well-organized and heavily-funded legal attack on public sector unions will mostly likely be the basis for another lawsuit brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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. The opposing view was—and still is—that because collective bargaining affects public policy on such matters as education and taxes, it is political. Demanding that a union member pay for what is deemed political and may be inconsistent with his or her beliefs is contrary to the rights of free speech and association.

We will never know for sure how the late, staunchly conservative Justice Antonin Scalia would have actually voted in this case, but his voice most likely would have meant defeat for public employee unions.

What is clear, however, is that in this presidential race, the Supreme Court finds itself front and center in the minds of many voters. First, there is the loss of Justice Scalia (and the vow by Senate Republican leaders not to take action on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland). And justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy will be 83 and 80, respectively, by Election Day.

Therefore, our next President may be appointing three Supreme Court Justices within his or her first term in office. These choices will affect not only organized labor, but also such issues as abortion, voting rights, affirmative action, immigration….

Undoubtedly, there is a lot at stake in this upcoming presidential election. We at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP will continue to stand by our union brothers and sisters as they weather attempts to cripple their efforts to fight for better conditions for their members. Together we will fight the good fight.

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