Good news for America’s public employees and educators: The U.S. Supreme Court today delivered its decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, affirming that public employees have a compelling interest in having strong and effective collective bargaining.
The 4-4 decision leaves intact the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision that has been working well for nearly four decades. Abood continued the practice of allowing states, school districts, and local governments the freedom to choose whether all public employees should pay their fair share for the employment representation they receive. In Montana, we call fair share “agency fee.” Here, agency fee is a matter of local bargaining.
Abood recognized that unions are required by law to represent all workers in a bargaining unit, even those who refuse to join the union, and that all workers in a bargaining unit benefit from the union’s representation. Therefore, unions should be able to ask non-members to pay a portion.
The Friedrichs case tried to overturn the Abood ruling. This would have severely weakened public employee unions in their efforts to bargain fair wages and protections.
The Friedrichs case was brought forward by the Center for Individual Rights, an anti-union organization funded by right-wing corporate interests. These interests, including the Koch brothers, funded the case.
The National Education Association (one of MEA-MFT’s national affiliates) and the California Teachers Association, are two of the union respondents in the case, along with the state of California.
The Friedrichs case was a thinly veiled attempt to weaken collective bargaining and silence public employees like teachers, state employees, school bus drivers, higher education faculty, and other public employees. In response, hundreds of amici curiae or “friends of the court” briefs were filed to support the union respondents.
These briefs came from 21 states, dozens of cities, nearly 50 Republican lawmakers, school districts, and public hospitals that rose in support of agency fees. Montana Governor Steve Bullock was the only governor nationwide to file a brief in support of public employee unions in the Friedrichs case.
Although Friedrichs is dead, there are other legal cases pending that could harm public employee unions. The battle isn’t over. It matters who gets appointed to fill the spot on the U.S. Supreme Court recently vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away recently.