By JoAnne Pow!ers - February 16, 2016:
The unexpected death of U.S. Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia this weekend may have prevented a ruling that could have had devastating effects on public employee unions across the nation. Scalia’s death leaves the court divided between four judges who usually vote more conservatively and four who vote more liberally. In the case of Friedrichs versus the California Teachers’ Association, Justice Scalia, one of the ultra-conservative judges on the court, was expected to vote with the court’s conservative majority against the unions. Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program Executive Director Elaine Bernard explained the case to Mark Bélanger of RadioLabour’s Solidarity News:
[Elaine Bernard]: “it’s a case of a young teacher who is arguing that she needn’t pay fair-share fees. Well, what are fair share fees? Essentially, in the U.S., once a union is certified, it must represent everybody in the bargaining unit. They’re not, by law, required to join the union, but they are required to pay at least a…what’s called a fair share. That is, a portion of the dues, and only that portion which actually covers the bargaining and negotiations…and the idea is that everybody going to benefit from what the union does. The union is obliged to represent everyone whether they join or not. And so in many states there’s what’s called Fair Share, so employees are required to pay a portion of the dues. It normally works out to only about sixty, maybe seventy percent of what a member would pay. And the idea is to prevent Free Riders. That is people who get all the benefits, but don’t pay into it.”
If the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the anti-union Friedrichs case, it could severely weaken workers and public employee unions by costing them millions of dollars in operating costs. Although Scalia defended the right of these unions to collect fair-share fees in a 1991 decision, during oral arguments last month he indicated he had changed his mind and would likely vote against the unions. Without Scalia’s vote, however, the case is likely to end in a tie vote from the remaining justices, meaning a lower-court ruling in favor of the union would stand. However, California Teachers’ Union President Joshua Pechthalt, warns that even if Friedrichs fails, “there will be other attacks against teachers unions.”
Thanks to RadioLabour for the Elaine Bernard audio used in this story.