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Supreme Court to hear case of teachers vs. CTA over union dues

Craig Clough | June 30, 2015

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Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

The Supreme Court announced today it will hear a case that could deal a major blow to the financial power of public sector unions.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, involves 10 California teachers who say their being forced to pay union dues violates their right to free speech.

The teachers are asking the court to overturn its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allows unions to collect dues from non-members for collective bargaining efforts on their behalf.

Forcing public employees to pay union dues — known as “agency shop” laws — as a requirement for employment is in place in California and 25 other states. Although not required to join the union, employees still have to pay dues but can opt out of the one-third that goes toward political action. The other two-thirds goes toward collective bargaining.

The case has far-reaching implications as it could deprive public sector unions of millions of dollars in revenue. The National Law Journal described the case as “a potential union-breaking challenge,” while a group of union leaders said the case would not just be a blow to unions, but “threatens the fundamental promise of America.”

CTA has argued that compulsory dues are needed to prevent employees from gaining the benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining on their behalf, without paying for them, a term often referred to as “free riding.”

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing the teachers, has argued in court that collective bargaining itself is “inherently political” and the political opt-out is burdensome.

“This case is about the right of individuals to decide for themselves whether to join and pay dues to an organization that purports to speak on their behalf,” CIR President Terry Pell said in a statement. “We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation on the basis of the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Rebecca Friedrichs and the other California teachers we are representing are looking forward to their long overdue day in court.”

Leaders of the major teacher unions and other public sector unions issued a joint statement in response the the court’s announcement.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders, and Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry had this to say:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America—that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.

“The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities—decisions that have stood for more than 35 years—and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.”

A ruling on the case is expected in June 2016.

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