June 30, 2015
Kowal, union leaders dismayed by Friedrichs review
UUP President Fred Kowal joined union leaders nationwide in decrying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could weaken public sector unions by denying them the ability to collect fees from workers who reject union representation.
“I am disappointed by the court’s move to review a suit bankrolled and propelled by wealthy anti-union forces designed to weaken and eventually break public sector unions,” Kowal said in a June 30 press statement. “By taking up this case, the Supreme Court is facilitating yet another vicious assault on working families, which serves to push the American Dream further and further out of reach for millions of laborers nationwide.
“Unions provide the opportunity for success and prosperity for those who work hard and play fair. Organized labor makes America strong. Unions give workers a strong, necessary voice. But this is an outright attack on working families, the American economy and the American way.”
On June 30, the court agreed to take up Friedrichs, a case brought by 10 California teachers who argue that paying such fees—known in New York as agency fee—is unconstitutional. The court won’t rule on the case until it resumes session in October; a decision could come as soon as December.
For decades, public sector unions have been allowed to collect fees from nonmembers, who would otherwise unfairly benefit from higher salaries, better working conditions and other union-negotiated benefits. Nonmembers must pay their fair share for representation, as per the Supreme Court’s landmark 1977 ruling, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education; they are not obligated to join unions, pay union dues or for political advocacy against their beliefs.
In a joint statement, the NEA, AFT, AFSCME, SEIU and the California Teachers Association said 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.”
“America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures," the statement said. "Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”
Said Kowal: “In the wake of recent major Supreme Court decisions that upheld same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, I am confident that the justices will see this case for the sham that it is and rule accordingly.”
On its website, NYSUT has posted detailed information about Friedrichs, including a breakdown of the case, a frequently asked questions section and links to information on the case.
It's all about Abood
Friedrichs poses a significant threat to organized labor and could weaken union solidarity and the ability of unions to effectively represent its members.
In its review of Friedrichs, the court may decide to reverse Abood, which asserted labor’s constitutional right to collect agency fees. If it does so, unions would still be left with the responsibility—required by law—of representing their entire bargaining units.
That includes “free riders” who would no longer have to pay agency fee and current union members who choose to leave the union to pocket their union dues, which amounts to about 1 percent of their salary. With Abood, the court asserted that it was not unconstitutional to collect fair share agency fees; it has subsequently upheld and reaffirmed the ruling.
Last year, anti-union groups challenged the legality of Abood through another case, Harris v. Quinn. The court chose not to overturn Abood, but conservative Justice Samuel Alito was highly critical of Abood in the majority opinion.
Anti-union groups seized the opportunity; in January, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other teachers filed a legal challenge. She’s being represented by a Washington, D.C.-based anti-union group, the Center for Individual Rights.
The Supreme Court will consider the case in its next term in October. The court must rule on the suit by June 30, 2016.
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