High court will hear case targeting public-sector unions

1024px-Supreme_Court_Front_DuskThe Supreme Court today announced it would hear arguments in a case challenging unions’ ability to collect fees from public-sector workers who choose not to join a union but, as members of the bargaining unit, enjoy equal access to benefits provided by the union contract.

Eliminating so-called “fair share fees,” ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court 37 years ago, is a top priority of the National Right to Work Committee and other right-wing legal groups that are bankrolling an assault on workers’ collective bargaining rights in the court system.

Unions pledged a vigorous defense of the fair-share structure, which empowers teachers and other public-sector employees to form strong unions for a collective voice on the job – while also ensuring no worker contributes to the union’s political activities without giving consent.

“It’s extremely frustrating that at a time when corporations and the super-rich have unprecedented power, the court would agree to take up a case that could further undercut working Americans,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said.

The case stems from California, where Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs sued the California Teachers Association for collecting fair share fees. The conservative, Washington-based Center for Individual Rights picked up Friedrichs’ legal fees and put the case on a fast track for the Supreme Court, arguing that forcing her to pay for union representation she doesn’t want amounts to “forced speech.”

The Supreme Court’s most conservative justices, led by Samuel Alito, have signaled more than once that they are sympathetic to 1st Amendment arguments to overturn the 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which deemed fair share fees constitutional.

But union members like Kimberly Colbert, a teacher from St. Paul, warned overturning Abood would stifle workers’ speech – not support it – because public sector unions are required to represent all employees in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not they pay dues.

“When educators come together, we can speak with the district about class size, about adequate staffing, about the need for counselors, nurses, media specialists and librarians in schools. And we can advocate for better practices that serve our kids,” Colbert said. “With that collective voice, we can have conversations with the district that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise – and do it while engaging our communities, our parents and our students.”

The court will hear arguments in Friedrich v. CTA during its upcoming term, which begins in October.

“While we hope that the court will not over turn their previous decision in Abood, an unfavorable ruling will not stop Minnesota’s labor movement from growing,” Knutson said. “Workers across our state and nation continue to stand up for their rights; we will continue to stand with them and their organizing efforts.”

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, agreed.

“This will be a fiercely argued case and no one knows how it will be decided, or when, but I can promise one thing,” Specht said. “No matter what happens, the educators of Education Minnesota will continue to speak out for our schools, our students, our educators and the future of our state.”


  1. bernie hesse says:

    The answer to the legal challenge is to organize and create a culture that freeriding is unacceptable.

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