The nation’s public sector unions avoided a serious setback Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court reached a tie vote in a case that could have reduced their influence.
Union leaders feared if the fees were struck down, members might leave the union to save on dues, which can be hundreds of dollars annually. But Tuesday’s action makes clear that the outcome will depend on the court’s new justice. The decision leaves the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling in favor of public unions in place, ensuring public employees who aren’t union members will have to pay fees to the unions.
State laws in MA and 24 other states that let public unions charge non-union employees “agency fees” survived a U.S. Supreme Court challenge yesterday when the court’s eight justices deadlocked on the issue.
“The union victory in the Friedrichs case demonstrates the critical importance of the Supreme Court“, said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
“This allows us to continue to be strong advocates”, said Eric C. Heins, president of the California Teachers Association. The dissenters claimed that “agency fees” – which non-members of bargaining units pay to cover the cost of required union services like contract bargaining and grievances handling – violated their free speech rights.
Although the Friedrichs plaintiffs sued the state of California and the CTA, a Supreme Court decision on mandatory dues would have affected all public employee unions in the two dozen states with mandatory fee laws.
“Of course, I did breathe a sigh of relief”, says CTA President Eric Heins, adding he’s “happy” that “unknown that’s been hanging out there has – at least for now – been put to rest”. “It’s important that we as individuals express ourselves politically whether it’s a party or an organization, it shouldn’t be dictated by that group what your vote is”, said Andrew Arguniga, an Oakland teacher from a non-union charter school, who has opted out in the past.
“In this era of broken municipal budgets, and a national crisis in public education, it is hard to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money local governments should devote to public employees, or what policies schools should adopt to best educate their children”, said Michael Carvin, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
The union case is one of several cases where Scalia’s vote was expected to tip the scales on the Court.