Deadlocked Supreme Court Saves Public Union Agency Fees

As you know, we wrote last week about the gains that the union-led “Fight for $15” campaign has made recently. The increase in the minimum wage, however, is not the only good news that public sector unions have had to celebrate as of late.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was shaping up to be one of the biggest Public Union Agency Fees cases in recent memory. At issue was a California law requiring public employees, who are represented by unions in collective bargaining, but are not union members, to pay “agency” or “fair share” fees for the union’s bargaining efforts. Similar laws are on the books in 22 other states. A group of public school teachers who were not union members challenged the law, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay for political speech—collective bargaining with the state—that they did not agree with.

At oral argument in January of 2016, it appeared likely that the Supreme Court would strike down the law by a 5-4 margin. This calculus changed, however, following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. At the end of March, the “equally divided” Court issued an order affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision with no analysis. The teachers have asked the Court to re-hear their case once the vacant seat on the Court is filled.

Public sector unions seemed to have “dodged a bullet” for now, as the Court appeared prepared to significantly hamper their ability to collect fees from non-members. For assistance with handling a union organizing campaign, collective bargaining, or any other labor and employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Labor and Employment Department: George Hlavac, Steve Hoffman, Jeff Stewart, Ed Easterly, or John Buckley.