COLUMBUS – Some of the country’s largest labor unions are claiming a tentative victory after a split decision Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court.
At issue is whether nonunion workers have to pay what’s known as “fair share” union dues for the wages and workplace protections the union negotiates for them. The nation’s highest court voted 4-4, leaving intact a nearly 40-year-old law making “fair share” dues legal for public-sector workers, including teachers.
While the decision could face a rehearing, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she believes it’s a step in the right direction.
“Millions of people understand that it is only through their unions that they can actually get a better piece of the American pie,” she said.
The Ohio AFL-CIO and the Ohio Education Association are among those applauding the ruling.
The case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, was brought to the Supreme Court by the libertarian group the Center for Individual Rights, which argued that First Amendment rights are violated by having to pay a union if the worker doesn’t want to join. The Center for Individual Rights represented 10 California public school teachers who said they were unfairly charged union fees to pay for collective bargaining and other services.
Weingarten said she sees it as a political maneuver from groups that want to strip public unions of their bargaining rights.
“The issue here was much less about fee-payers,” she said, “and much more about the right wing simply using this device as a vehicle to try and distract people from doing everything we need to do to raise wages, recreate a middle class.”
More than 20 states now can continue requiring public-sector workers to help fund the unions that represent them. According to the 1977 case the suit was challenging, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, union fees are not used for political purposes but for negotiating contracts and improving working conditions.
An AFT statement is online at aft.org.