Hoegaarden or Weingarten

By: Adam Solomon

Money may not be able to buy happiness, according to the old adage, but it can sure go a long way towards paying for the basic sustenance’s, pleasures, and luxuries in life, or even helping to cover the cost of another increase in inflation.[1]  Many people fantasize about using extra money to buy a car, plan the perfect getaway for their next travel, or paying down their mortgage, but it’s hard to imagine being forced to give away your hard earned money towards something you don’t want or don’t support.  However, for many involved in union professions, this is an all too common reality, which has sparked a series of fairly recent lawsuits; e.g. Knox v. Service Employees International Union Local 1000,[2] Harris v. Quinn,[3] and Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.[4]

Unions have a strong presence in the workforce and for standing up for workers’ rights; e.g. the right to have your union representative present during an investigatory interview that you believe may lead to or result in disciplinary action.[5]  While union dues vary depending on the profession, some people, like teachers, pay nearly one thousand dollars to a labor union.[6]  As a result, several outraged teachers have brought suit arguing that unions have become more and more political, and that their dues shouldn’t be used to fund a union’s political agenda, which now encompasses all union activity.[7]  In Friedrichs, a group of public school teachers in California have brought suit, claiming the union’s mandatory fees violate their First Amendment Right, because they disagree with the union’s positions.[8]

After granting a writ of certiorari, Friedrichs is currently before the Supreme Court, for a decision revolving around mandatory union dues.[9]  “Friedrichs gives the court an opportunity to outlaw all mandatory union dues in the public sector.  To be clear, such a ruling wouldn’t end government unions.  Employees who genuinely support a labor organization would still be free to join up and pay dues.”[10]  While it wouldn’t end unions, it would have negative financial and political implications on public unions.[11]  “Union membership itself is on the decline—down from 33.2 percent in 1956 to 11.8 percent in 2011.”[12]  Potentially eliminating the requirement of mandatory fees to unions, which a large number of people don’t necessarily want to join, will cause unions to have decreased political influence, decreased size, and a decreased bankroll to fund their agendas.  “In 2008, labor unions spent $75 million in political donations, with 92 percent of it going to Democrats.  In 2010, over 93 percent of union political support went to Democrats, even though 42 percent of union households voted Republican.”[13]  While this issue is still pending, Justice Kennedy’s comment that “[t]he union is basically making the teachers ‘compelled-riders’ on issues with which they strongly disagree,”[14] suggests that the Court may go against its 1977 precedent case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education,[15] and set a new standard, altering a unions’ presence and relationship, with perhaps far greater repercussions than this group of California teachers or only this profession.

[1] US Inflation Flat in January, Annual Inflation Rate Jumps to 1.4%, US Inflation Calculator (Feb. 19, 2016), http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/us-inflation-flat-in-january-annual-inflation-rate-jumps-to-1-4/10001931/ (noting the increase in inflation over the past year).

[2] See Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000, 132 S. Ct. 2277, 2295 (U.S. 2012) (holding that “individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech”).

[3] Harris v. Quinn, 134 S. Ct. 2618, 2644 (U.S. 2014) (holding that no one may be “compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support. The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union”).

[4] Friedrichs v. Cal. Teachers Ass’n, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 188995 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 5, 2013).

[5] NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc., 420 U.S. 251, 252 (U.S. 1975).

[6] Adam Liptak, Mandatory Union Fees Getting Hard Look by Supreme Court, N.Y. Times (Jan. 8, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/09/us/politics/union-fees-friedrichs-v-california-teachers-association.html?_r=0.

[7] See Unions at Risk? Supreme Court Justices Voice Skepticism Toward Forced Dues, FoxNews (Jan. 11, 2016), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/01/11/supreme-court-to-hear-dispute-over-public-sector-union-fees.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Friedrichs v. Cal. Teachers Ass’n, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 4503 (U.S. 2015).

[10] Will Collins, Supreme Court Argument Preview: What’s at Stake in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, National Right to Work (Jan. 6, 2016), http://www.nrtw.org/free-tagging/forced-dues (comment by National Right to Work President, Mark Mix, published last September).

[11] See Liptak, supra note 6 (example of a high school teacher in California paying $970 in union dues).

[12] Rick Berman, Union Dues Are a Prohibitively Bad Investment, Forbes (July 31, 2012), http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/07/31/union-dues-are-a-prohibitively-bad-investment/#28188c007e64.

[13] Id.  “Really, these unions are not speaking on my behalf.  They’re speaking on behalf of the union and the union leadership” (statement by school teacher, and plaintiff in Friedrichs, Rebecca Friedrichs).  Id.

[14] Unions at Risk? Supreme Court Justices Voice Skepticism Toward Forced Dues, FoxNews (Jan. 11, 2016), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/01/11/supreme-court-to-hear-dispute-over-public-sector-union-fees.html.

[15] Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 431 U.S. 209 (U.S. 1977).

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