Education International
Education International

USA: Major court victory for unions

published 30 March 2016 updated 5 April 2016

The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of public employee unions, rejecting a conservative attack on the basis of the fees collected from non-members.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, signified a major threat to public employee unions that represent nearly 36% of US government workers. The lawsuit sought to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision that allowed public employee unions to collect “fair share” fees from non-members for the costs of collective bargaining.

Victory for US workers

“The US Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators”, said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “The court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognises that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs”, she stressed.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court as “a big win for anyone who believes in the promise of America. Unions are about giving workers and their families a voice on the job and a fair shot to get ahead”. She labelled the decisionas a “blow to the right-wing special interests who are trying to rig the economy and our democracy in their own favour”.

Agency fees targeted by anti-union powers

Under California law, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a “fair share service fee,” also known as an “agency fee,” typically equivalent to the dues members pay. The fees, the law says, are meant to pay for some of the costs of collective bargaining, including “the cost of lobbying activities.” More than 20 states have similar laws.

According to the New York Times, “Government workers who are not members of unions have long been able to obtain refunds for the political activities of unions, like campaign spending. The case the court ruled on Tuesday, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, asked whether such workers must continue to pay for any union activities, including negotiating for better wages and benefits. A majority of the justices had seemed inclined to say no.”