Dear Commons Community,
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rejected arguments to render agency fees unconstitutional in public sector unions in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The Court upheld an appellate court decision that found the agency fee constitutional. Thus, the law remains as it has for over forty years. As reported in the New York Times:
“The Supreme Court handed organized labor a major victory on Tuesday, deadlocking 4 to 4 in a case that had threatened to cripple the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from workers who chose not to join and did not want to pay for the unions’ collective bargaining activities.
It was the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right.
A ruling allowing workers to refuse to pay the fees would have been the culmination of a decades-long campaign by a group of prominent conservative foundations aimed at weakening unions that represent teachers and other public employees. Tuesday’s deadlock denied them that victory, but it set no precedent and left the door open for further challenges once the Supreme Court is back at full strength.
When the case was argued in January, the court’s conservative majority seemed ready to say that forcing public workers to support unions they had declined to join violates the First Amendment. Justice Scalia’s questions were consistently hostile to the unions.
His death changed the balance of power in this case, and most likely in many others. The clout of the court’s four-member liberal wing has increased significantly. Its members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — can create deadlocks, as they did Tuesday, and they can sometimes attract the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for a liberal result.
Union officials said they were elated by Tuesday’s decision, but they remain wary of future efforts to diminish their effectiveness.
“We know the wealthy extremists who pushed this case want to limit the ability for workers to have a voice, curb voting rights and restrict opportunities for women and immigrants,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.
A great victory indeed for public unions.