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Politics
June 24, 2015
By Sam Hananel, Associated Press

Washington — Powerful public-sector unions are facing another high-profile legal challenge that they say could wipe away millions from their bank accounts and make it tougher for them to survive.

A group of California schoolteachers, backed by a conservative group, has asked the Supreme Court to rule that unions representing government workers can’t collect fees from those who choose not to join.

In this 2013, photo provided by Center for Individual Rights, Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran Orange County, Calif., school teacher, poses for a portrait. Friedrichs is the lead plaintiff in a case brought by group of California schoolteachers, backed by a conservative group, asking the Supreme Court to rule that unions representing government workers can’t collect fees from those who choose not to join. | Courtesy of the Center for Individual Rights via AP Greg Schneider

Half the states currently require state workers represented by a union to pay “fair share” fees that cover bargaining costs, even if they are not members. The justices could decide as early as next week whether to take up the case.

Union opponents say it violates First Amendment rights to require nonmembers to pay fees that may go to causes they don’t support. They could find a sympathetic ear at the high court, where the justices last year indicated they may be willing to reconsider a 38-year-old precedent that allows unions to collect the fees.

The high court’s 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education said public workers who choose not to join a union can be required to pay for bargaining costs, as long as the fees don’t go for political purposes. The arrangement was supposed to help promote labor peace and prevent nonmembers from “free riding,” since the union has a legal duty to represent all workers.

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