The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 11th in an important case that could eliminate union “fair share fees” and make every state in the country a “right to work” state.
The case was initially filed in California and involves a group of teachers who decided not to join the teachers’ union. It is interesting to note that the case has almost no factual record. This is because the teachers admitted that the lower courts did not have the authority to decide in their favor in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977). They requested that the lower courts rule against them so the case could be presented directly to the Supreme Court.
It was somewhat surprising that the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the appeal because it previously approved fair share fees in the Abood decision. We thought this might be an indication of the Court’s willingness to overturn its Abood decision and prohibit mandatory fair share fees. Our initial thinking was further bolstered yesterday by the tough questions posed by the Court to the union at oral argument. For instance, Justice Kennedy, who often serves as a swing vote, said:
“The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree. Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that, but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it, correct me if I’m wrong, agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on these very points.”
Ohio law (R.C. 4117.09) permits fair share fees if the public employer and union have agreed in a collective bargaining agreement to require fair share fees as a condition of employment. A ruling in this case against the union will have huge implications for Ohio’s public sector unions. If the Court rules in the favor of the non-union teachers, it would declare that it is unconstitutional for a state to allow public sector unions to charge a mandatory fair share fee to non-members. This would likely mean that non-members could not be forced to pay a fair share fee if they do not agree to pay the fee, which would obviously have a negative impact on the revenue of unions and could lead to more resentment from union members against non-members (or so-called “free riders” as they are often referred to).
A decision in this case is expected later this summer. We will continue to monitor any developments and will update our clients as soon as the decision is announced.
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (Case No. 14-915).
The U.S. Supreme Court announced on March 29th, 2016 that it was deadlocked with a 4-4 decision on a case brought before it to challenge the practice of public employer unions collecting fair share fees.
Initially filed in California by a group of teachers who decided not to join the union, the case served as a direct challenge to a well-recognized U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1977, Abood v. Detroit Board of Edn., which declared fair share fees legal.
Many interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case as an indication that Abood may be overruled given the Court’s more conservative composition. However, the death of Antonin Scalia, who presumably would have provided the swing vote to overturn Abood, passed away before the decision was rendered.
A split decision in this case means that, at least for now, Abood remains good law and the practice of fair share fees will continue. This is a decisive victory for unions across the nation, although representatives from both sides have indicated that they may request a rehearing on the matter.