Challenge to CA union dues heads to Supreme Court

Challenge to CA union dues heads to Supreme Court

Union negotiating, taxpayers, cagle, Aug. 26, 2013Are union dues mandatory? The U.S. Supreme Court is closeer to taking up that controversy. According to the Center for Individual Rights, which defends individual workers’ rights not to belong to unions and pay dues, specifically to the California Teachers Association:

Friedrichs v. CTA, CIR’s challenge to compulsory union dues, is one step closer to the Supreme Court.  On January 26, Michael Carvin, lead counsel in the case, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.  The petition asks the Court to take the case and rule that the compulsory union dues laws now in effect in twenty-six states unconstitutionally force individuals to subsidize union positions with which they may fundamentally disagree.  If the Court takes Friedrichs, it will likely schedule the case for the term beginning October, 2015, with a decision likely by June 2016.

Last summer, the court decided the case Harris vs. Quinn. As U.S. News reported:

In Harris v. Quinn, the court ruled 5-4 that Illinois could not force eight part-time home health care workers to contribute to union bargaining fees, and that doing so would be a violation of their First Amendment rights. Part of the issue hinged on how broadly a 1977 case on forced union dues extends. That case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, allows unions to require nonmembers to pay fees for collective bargaining, as long as the dues are not used for ideological or political purposes.

In the end, the justices refused to extend the precedent to the situation in Illinois, claiming the health care workers are “quite different from full-fledged public employees.” But in the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the analysis that led to a decision in Abood is “questionable on several grounds.” Collective bargaining issues, he wrote, are inherently political in the public sector. 

“In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government,” Alito wrote. “But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government.”

So some issues remain up in the air. As CIR explained:

CIR is representing ten California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International in a landmark effort to re-establish the right of individual teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and support a union. The suit claims state “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, violate well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association. While many teachers support the union, others do not and the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees.

Collective Bargaining is inherently political

Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. This type of forced-payment scheme assumes that collective bargaining is “non-political.”  But bargaining with local governments is inherently political.  Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.

CTA deflated?

If CIR wins this case, it would take the wind out of the sails of the CTA and other state unions, much as already happened to public-sector unions in Wisconsin after the unions lost several battles with Gov. Scott Walker. Now running for president, he claims the end of most collective bargaining rights has saved Badger State taxpayers $3 billion over three years — the equivalent of $20 billion in California.

That $20 billion is about what Proposition 30, the 2012 tax increase, collected here the past three years (most of it was retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012). And now California unions, of course, want to keep the “temporary” tax going ad infinitum.

If the U.S. Supreme Court sides with union members against the unions, the same will happen here as in Wisconsin, with large numbers of members refusing to pay their $1,000 a year dues to the unions. The unions also will have to be more responsive to their members, asking for dues instead of getting the money automatically.

If that happens, the unions will have to abandon some of their far-left actions that are unpopular with more moderate members.


Tags assigned to this article:
unionsCenter for Individual RightsCTAJohn Seiler

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