At the end of the Supreme Court’s term, the justices announced a number of cases that it will hear in the fall. Among them is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. That has the unions very worried because the issue is whether public sector unions will be allowed to continue to take and use dues money from workers who have to accept union representation for purposes not related to collective bargaining — mainly politics. As things now stand, unions have to allow dissenters the chance to opt out paying for union politicking, but they contrive to make it as hard as possible for anyone to do that. That raises First Amendment issues, since the Court has held that just as people have a right to speak, they also have a right not to be forced to subsidize speech by others.
One of the groups that has filed an amicus brief in the case is Pacific Legal and this piece by attorney Deborah LaFetra explains the issues.
As you’d expect, the Court’s willingness to hear the case has set off alarms in the offices of unions. They depend on a big flow of money from the workers they claim to represent and fear that if they were allowed to choose whether or not to pay for more than just the cost of collective bargaining, many of them would decide to use their money for other things. In this Inside Higher Ed story, Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, blares that the suit is “an insidious way to bankrupt unions.” That assertion is, of course, nonsense. A ruling against the CTA’s system would merely put teacher and faculty unions on the same plane as all other groups — having to ask for money for political purposes and take “no” for an answer when individuals exercise their right to make that choice. If any union goes bankrupt it would be because the workers don’t think it is worth what it costs.
The case will be probably be argued in October or November and recent precedents including Knox v. SEIU and Harris v. Quinn suggest that the unions’ finance scheme is on thin ice.