April 01, 2016

An Updated Q & A on Friedrichs v California Teachers Association

Source:  President's Office
supreme court
Caption: Photo by Mike Campbell.

The Supreme Court's recent 4-4 decision in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers' Association means that there will be no immediate changes in existing law. NYSUT and other public sector unions can continue to collect "fair share" agency fees for those who opt not to join the union yet are covered by the collective bargaining agreement.

As the following Q&A explains, while an immediate threat has been dispelled with the recent Supreme Court decision, many more anti-union cases remain in the legal pipeline, instigated by deep-pocketed extremists who seek to dismantle union rights.

Despite this respite from one looming threat, NYSUT will continue full throttle with our vigorous commitment to member organizing and engagement. We all know that an educated and engaged membership is the best defense against attacks on the labor movement.

Questions and Answers

Q. What does the Supreme Court's 4-4 vote in Friedrichs mean?

A. It means the lower court's decision is affirmed, and that the Court's 1977 decision in Abood stands. Unions may continue to collect fair share fees from the non-members the union represents.

Q. Does this decision permanently resolve whether fair share fees are constitutional?

A. No. The Friedrichs plaintiffs have already announced their intention to seek a rehearing before the Supreme Court once it is back to full strength. This could happen as early as the Court's next term, which begins in October 2016.

Q. What if the Court does not grant a rehearing?

A. Even if the Court decides against a rehearing in Friedrichs, there are a number of other pending cases that raise this issue. Once the Court is at full strength, it is very likely the issue will be resolved by a majority decision in the next two to three years.

Q. Are there other legal attacks on unions that we need to watch?

A. Unfortunately, there are quite a few. Well-funded anti-union groups, like the one behind Friedrichs, have brought many cases seeking to undermine the voice and strength of unions and working Americans. These challenges are being pursued all over the United States. They include challenges to:

  • The right of unions to speak for all members of a bargaining unit (exclusivity). Without exclusivity, the employer can divide the workforce and undermine the union by selectively providing better wages and benefits to employees who oppose the union. Once the union fails, wages and benefits can be cut for all.
  • Basic employment rights, including the right to job security, due process, and the protection of seniority.
  • The right to bargain basic terms and conditions of employment.

Q. Are we facing these challenges in New York?

A. Yes. A decision by the Supreme Court on fair share fees would apply to New York. The National "Right to Work" Legal Defense Foundation has filed a Friedrichs-type challenge against PEF, an AFT local that represents New York's professional state workers. And, Campbell Brown's horribly misnamed "Partnership for Educational Justice" is pursuing litigation in New York seeking to outlaw the protections of teacher tenure/due process, seniority, and collective bargaining. Other groups are seeking to direct more tax dollars away from public schools into charter schools. These attacks are not just being waged in court, but in every state legislature, including ours.

Q. What can locals and members do about these legal fights?

A. Unions have always faced tough challenges and have surmounted them by organizing and engaging members. Unions exist to give ordinary working people a voice and a fighting chance against those who would keep wages and benefits low and deny job security. Union strength comes from active, engaged members. Despite the recent favorable ruling, we need to continue to engage every member in these fights. Our commitment to organizing continues unabated.

NYSUT will continue to emphasize our organization-wide commitment to field outreach that engages every local and every member on the value of union membership. This emphasis – a priority for the last two years – continues, supported by member-centric resources available at www.nysut.org/unionvalue. And every member who cares about wages, benefits, job and retirement security needs to register and vote. We need to elect representatives who value and support working people. And we need the people we elect to appoint judges who respect the law and the legal rights of ordinary working Americans.