SCOTUS to Wade Into Public-Sector Union Fees

     (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider whether government employee unions are violating non-members’ constitutional rights by forcing them to contribute to collective bargaining costs.
     In a complaint filed on April 30 2013, the Christian Educators Association International and 10 California public school teachers contended that unions negotiating with school boards and other governmental agencies are essentially engaged in a form of political lobbying.
     They argued that being forced to pay union fees — roughly $1,000 per year per teacher — amounts to coerced political speech which violates their First Amendment rights.
     The plaintiffs also challenged a provision contained in the high court’s 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the justices upheld the maintenance of a union shop in a public workplace. The ruling established a precedent that non-members to formally “opt out” of paying fees the union political activities. Under that provision, teachers must give the union notice every year that they are opting out of the fees.
     Teachers who do so receive a $350 to $450 refund but may have to give up direct benefits such as disability insurance, according to the complaint.
     Unions have repeatedly justify the fees by claiming that all teachers benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining.
     U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker ruled in favor of the union, and that ruling was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit on Nov. 18, 2014, when it held Tucker’s decision was governed by controlling Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent – Abood and Mitchell v. L.A. Unified Sch. Dist.
     In their petition for a writ of certiorari, Christian Educators Association International and the plaintiff teachers contend Abood should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements be invalidated under the First Amendment.
     They further ask whether it violates to First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing “nonchargeable speech” by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.
     The respondents, which include the California Teachers Association, argued the Supreme Court should reject the request for a writ because “Abood‘s holding rests on solid constitutional footing and has been repeatedly reaffirmed.”
     They further contend the petitioners’ theories for overruling Abood lack substance.
     As is their custom, the justices did not explain their rationale for taking the case. Representatives of the parties could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

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