SPLIT SUPREME COURT HANDS PUBLIC SECTOR LABOR UNIONS MAJOR VICTORY

2016_04_19 labor union victory copy

Public sector labor unions were handed a big win by the U.S. Supreme Court last month. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association involved the issue of whether public sector unions could collect fees from workers who chose not to join the union and did not want to pay for the union’s collective bargaining activities. The rationale behind a union’s ability to collect such fees, which are typically equivalent to the dues union members pay, is that, even though those employees do not want to be in the union, they nevertheless benefit from the union’s activities, including the rights and benefits negotiated and enforced by the union on behalf of all employees as contained in the collective bargaining agreement.

In the decision, the eight members of the Court split 4-4 and issued a one-sentence ruling leaving the lower court decision in place, which allowed a union to require payments from all workers. Prior to the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it was expected that the Court would decide 5-4 that public employees could not be forced to pay fees to a union. Ordinarily, a decision by the Supreme Court sets a binding precedent on all lower courts, but a 4-4 deadlock does not set such a precedent, and leaves open the possibility that the same challenge is brought again before the Court when it is restored to nine members.

Public sector unions’ right to collect fees from all workers is safe for now. Justice Scalia’s death changed the balance of power in this case, and will likely have the same effect in other cases this term.

By: Meaghan Murphy

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