Workers at Risk in Friedrichs Case

WASHINGTON —Workers and public sector unions faced questions about union dues, agency fees and what they’re used for – or not used for – at the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 11.

And if the questions and comments from the justices, particularly “swing vote” Justice Anthony Kennedy, are any indication, the unions face another big, 5-4 loss when the jurists decide the top labor case of their 2015-16 session. A decision is due before the end of June.

The case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association et al pitted several of dissident California teachers – funded and backed by the anti-worker anti-union radical right National Right to Work Committee – against California, its teachers unions, the Obama administration and their union and non-union allies.

The issue is whether state laws that let unions representing public workers collect “agency fees” strictly to pay only for contract negotiations and enforcement violate the dissident workers’ constitutional free speech rights.

However, the real issue is whether public worker unions can survive a big loss of revenue as not just present “free riders” refuse to pay, but everyone else does, too – and can get away with it. Justice Elena Kagan estimated that thousands of union contracts and 10 million workers could be affected.

The dissidents, represented by RTW-hired attorney Michael Carvin, argue that anything a union does, including bargaining contracts and handling grievances, is “political” and thus forcing dissidents to pay agency fees for those functions violates their free speech rights.

If the dissidents win, every state and local government would become a so-called “right to work” shop, where anyone could use the union’s services, but not pay for them.

“With the agency fees, unions can do things they can’t do without them,” such as train workers to be more effective, Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Carvin.

David Frederick, speaking for the California Teachers Association, and its union allies, told the court that overriding – throwing out – the 1997 Abood case, which legalized the current agency fee system “would substantially disrupt established labor-management relations and collective bargaining agreements in half of the country.” Those are the states that do not have so-called “right to work” laws.

Source: PAI