The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

Source: Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, January 11, 2016

A case going to oral arguments today will have implications far beyond that of free speech. ….

….At the core of the case are “agency fees,” sometimes called “fair share fees.” Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.

Agency fees do not fund unions’ political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees’ freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions’ political activities.

But conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has long signaled that he would attempt to overturn Abood given the chance. With Friedrichs, his moment may have arrived…..