Archive for January, 2016

SCOTUS to Take a Stab at Unions

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

In late December 2015 Congress did a good thing. Legislation expanded and made permanent tax deductions for eligible unreimbursed classroom spending up to $250, including professional development courses. Bipartisan work made it happen!


But, teachers, smile not! and watch out! The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on January 11, 2016, took on the complaint by 10 California teachers (5 male, 5 female) to get relief from agency fees (also called ‘fair share’) deducted from paychecks by the California Teachers Association (CTA), known as Friedrichs vs. CTA.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal reported on last night’s PBS NewsHour that there was “a clear ideological divide” among the justices over whether such fee rules violate the First Amendment.  It will affect public sector unions all over the country: teachers, hospitals, fire departments, police, county and state employees to name the most obvious.

What are agency/fair share fees? Required by twenty-three states, they are the monies deducted from the paycheck that support union costs for all collective bargaining, benefits, grievances, disciplinary actions, disputes with the administration and lobbying, but don’t support candidates or other “ideological activities” which are considered to violate the First Amendment.

Unions spend about 70% on collective bargaining and 30% on political actions. Additional money for political actions may be given to union PACs, but employees must opt-in for deduction of those funds from a paycheck. Employees who don’t want to support any kind of political action may ask for refund of the money dedicated to such actions and only pay toward collective bargaining. However, if the person wishes to withdraw from the union, but still work in the school district, he/she must still pay the agency fee, minus, if requested, the political action sum.

In the case of Friedrichs vs. CTA, the SCOTUS decision will void a precedent, the Abood vs. Detroit (1977) decision, which upheld “fair share” fees to support collective bargaining. Twenty-four amici briefs have been delivered to oppose the complaint, one of which is a brief from 70 Republican state senators and assembly members. Twenty amici briefs have been delivered to support the claimants.

As Lily Garcia, president of the National Educators Association states, a bad decision “harms not just public workers but also the communities who depend on the services they provide.”


Teachers all know the limits on private life and service in a school before unions and collective bargaining existed. Nevertheless, members can name problems in every union over “last hired, first fired”, seniority, length of probationary status, work hours, and salaries – which negotiation must resolve.

However, the teachers who have agreed to be complainants in Friedrichs vs. CTA wish to quit paying fair share/agency fees, although they receive the benefits of collective bargaining in the California districts where they work. They say the fees support actions they don’t like, and payment of such fees violate their First Amendment freedoms.

In fact, the suit was cobbled together by The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) that feels “union stances in collective bargaining are bad for public school classroom teachers and bad for the children they teach.” (from CIR mission goal) CIR is funded by the Koch Brothers and other conservative groups. They have developed actions against Affirmative Action and a suit for the Boy Scouts against admission of LGBT members.


What may happen other than SCOTUS deciding for the complainants? That employees don’t have to be a union member and don’t have to pay the fees? Most employees would say it is unfair to be a free loader in any public sector employment.

One, SCOTUS could decide to change how fees are collected. Negotiated action by a union and the state or district could agree, for example, that the 30% not be deducted if the member opts out when first employed. They don’t have to reapply each year. Only under certain circumstances can the member later opt back in.

Two, CTA could negotiate with the state over “the duty for fair representation,” to give union members exclusive right to collective bargaining decisions. Non-union workers do not have any rights.

Three, SCOTUS could remand the case to the lower courts.

Finally, if a public sector employee doesn’t want to be in the union, it would be wiser to find a job in the non-union private sector. Or, if a worker says he/she can make good single-handedly in the middle class economy, go for it, and don’t expect a union member’s dues to give support when trouble appears.