CA unions brace for SCOTUS hearing on dues

Rebecca Friedrichs

Rebecca Friedrichs

Faced with the greatest legal challenge to their core source of revenue, California unions have braced for defeat and scrambled for alternatives.

Some time after its new term begins this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which challenges the union’s collection of mandatory fees from members. The case’s stakes have been raised as high as possible by plaintiffs’ supporters. “We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“Since 1997, the Supreme Court has held that requiring non-union members to pay the cost of collective bargaining prevents ‘free riders,’ meaning workers who get the benefits of a union contract without paying for it,” as NBC News noted. “But in subsequent rulings, several of the court’s conservatives have suggested that the decision should be overruled.” Legal analysts suggested the track record implies a victory for California’s plaintiffs. Erin Murphy, a federal appeals lawyer, told NBC News she “would not feel very good about my prospects if I were the unions.”

Crisis mode

At the end of the Legislature’s final session, pro-union Democrats attempted an unusual “gut and amend” maneuver, wherein a bill’s contents are wiped out and completely replaced without revisiting the standard hearing process. The new language would have required one-on-one, union-sponsored “public employee orientation” for existing and new employees. The content of the orientation “would be the sole domain of the union and not open to negotiation,” with employees “required to attend in person during work hours. Taxpayers would pick up the tab,” the Heartland Institute added in a critical summary.

Although the effort failed, it was a notable reflection of state unions’ concern that they can’t rely on the Supreme Court to protect their current practices. “Public employee unions haven’t had mandated orientations because they don’t need them,” U-T San Diego’s Steven Greenhut observed, calling the last-minute gut and amend a “pre-emptive strike” on the court’s hearing of Friedrichs. “Newly hired workers must already pay dues to the recognized union.”

Not all union supporters have framed the impending decision as a crisis, however. “Even some pro-union voices have argued the Friedrichs case doesn’t portend the end of the world for public-sector unions, in that it might force them to become more responsive and democratic,” Greenhut suggested.

But the court’s decision is likely to hinge on more fundamental questions pertaining to the very definition of a union.

What’s a union?

One element of the problem has been that unions fear members just won’t pay dues if they can get away with it — the so-called “free rider” problem, familiar from the idea that many fewer Americans would pay taxes were they merely voluntary. “No one knows how many would, with annual dues in the CTA, for example, often topping $1,000,” according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “That makes this a life-and-death case for the unions,” which fear the political power of their main adversaries — certain large corporations and high-net-worth individuals — would go undiminished. It would be very difficult, in other words, for the court to successfully separate the question of unions’ political power from the question of their existence.

That has led analysts to focus on a second aspect of the problem of what a union really is. One Justice, Antonin Scalia, has indicated in the past that the existence of unions within the American system of law depends on their ability to generalize the burdens of keeping them running. “In a 1991 case, he wrote that because public sector unions have a legal duty to represent all employees, it’s reasonable to expect all workers to share the costs,” the Daily News noted.

For that reason, the question of what counts as political expenditures would likely come to the fore before the court. But the plaintiffs in Friedrichs have anticipated the controversy, because they see it as the foundation of their entire case. “All union fees, they argue, are in some way used for political activities and since they don’t always agree with the union’s stance, having to pay any fees is an infringement on their first amendment rights,” the Guardian reported.

13 comments

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  1. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 9 October, 2015, 08:04

    Everybody knows: Leadership of public employee unions use mandatory dues to 1) pay themselves (of course) 2) buy politicians so they can negotiate obscene fraudulent ‘contracts’ with themselves in the name (and on the dime of) the vast nebulous blob called the taxpayer. And this, my son, is how bus drivers end up making $150,000 a year…..Those wild-eyed anarchic pro-union wobblies of yore would have stormed into those phony ‘meet and confer’ gravy train rollouts and burnt it all down. No longer. Now, as far as the eye can see, a vast sea of obese contentment, jiggling in its recliners, dreaming of football and costco……

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 October, 2015, 14:08

      And this, my son, is how bus drivers end up making $150,000 a year…..

      LOL…so sad, but true. That is also how seesaw got her massive defined benefit pension for an unskilled muni job…..

      Reply this comment
  2. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 9 October, 2015, 08:16

    Ahh the Unions they have sown what they have reaped now let them enjoy the lemons

    Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 9 October, 2015, 09:31

    Supporting unions or franchising is insecurity and personal weakness…..buying your job!

    Reply this comment
  4. Dude
    Dude 9 October, 2015, 10:28

    Finally. I sincerely hope that SCOTUS sticks it to California’s mafia/unions. Time for their ownership of our representatives to end.

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 October, 2015, 14:05

    IMO Roberts, Alito, Thomas and especially Scalia are DROOLING at striking down the law that allows PUBLIC unions to force dues collections on members, and then use those dues to elect their own toadies who give away the farm to the trough feeders.

    Kennedy is the question mark. Will he play ball with Roberts et al??? I think he will. I am pretty sure the conservative block look at public unions as a threat to the very survival of the country, and even more so to the Republican party.

    5-4 striking the law down IMO. Roberts will write the opinion, Scalia will write his own concurring opinion with added commentary unique to his philosophy, Sotomayor will write the dissenting opinion.

    Reply this comment
  6. LGMike
    LGMike 12 October, 2015, 22:35

    The real question that needs to be answered is, why have some “STATES” mandated “agency status” upon any employer or for that matter government employment. California and the rest of the United States should be ” right to work” which allows unions, but doesn’t force a person to join or pay dues to them unless they want to. In agency states, if you apply for a job with a union controlled workforce, but don’t want to join, then the reality is you won’t get hired. If an individual is not capable of negotiating a contract for pay and benefits, they get what they deserve.

    Reply this comment
  7. Tough Love
    Tough Love 13 October, 2015, 16:10

    Public Sector Unions are a CANCER inflicted upon civilized society.

    A ruling that seriously diminishes their ability to BUY the favorable votes of our Elected Officials with Union-dues-sourced camapign contributions is a GIANT step forward for the rights of Taxpayers everywhere.

    Reply this comment
  8. Anna
    Anna 18 October, 2015, 15:02

    If anyone need protections of a Union it the public sector. Now only for the good of the rank and file but also to protect the taxpayers whose dollars are under attach by private public corporations take over of the public sectors at 100 times a state worker gets paid. Private Corporations will do anything to destroy or weaken the Unions and deny State Workers that protection. One only has to follow the money. Private corporation can buy politicians and management with those extra dollars. Rank and files workers are just barely making a living in comparison. How else will they get their greedy hands on those public contracts without going through a prober bidding process.

    Private prisons, private traffic control devices. Government systems are not for profit. They are just the opposite. When government agencies are being controlled by private companies, how can those who are charged with enforcing agencies who are responsibility for protecting our food, drugs, safe work environments, and a fair justice system, and all the other agencies in place to protect our right expected to function. Those of you who think Government should operate like a for profit company or by for profit companies are wrong. Private public infiltration of our agencies are running out the few remaining public civil servants who are committed to the American way and we will continue to pay the price as a society unless a change takes place. If a state worker whether in be in education or in government agencies or in the state university systems see a wrong and points it out in a grievance or as a whistleblower they are now immediately retaliated against and the Unions are there to see that doesn’t happen.

    Reply this comment
    • Dude
      Dude 18 October, 2015, 15:40

      Brand new, untrained CalTran “Stop sign holder” trainee gets paid $6,000 a month. Well, that kills the previous stupid post that claimed the unions are good for the rest of us.

      Reply this comment
      • Charles Sainte Claire
        Charles Sainte Claire 21 October, 2015, 21:24

        You are out of your mind. Try $2000 per month. Flagging traffic is a dangerous job and requires a lot of training.

        Reply this comment
        • Dude
          Dude 21 October, 2015, 21:30

          You’ll have to argue the numbers with Cal Trans because I got the numbers from their website.

          Reply this comment

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