SCOTUS Ties on Decision for Public-Sector Unions

Are you a California public-sector worker and union member in need of a mood boost? Stick around and read this blog, because we have some good news.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) deadlocked 4 to 4 on a recent vote that would have prevented public-sector unions from collecting fees from nonmembers. For months, the conservative majority was expected to rule against public-sector unions by allowing nonmembers to be exempt from paying fees. With the recent death of conservative-leaning Justice Antonin Scalia, the liberal and conservative justices deadlocked.

Had Antonin Scalia lived to see this vote, it may have overturned a prior 1977 SCOTUS decision allowing some public-sector unions to collect fees from nonmembers. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also upheld the 1977 decision. SCOTUS is the highest court in the land, so a deadlock on this ruling means California’s existing law will stand and no new precedent will be set. With only eight justices, SCOTUS cannot effectively do its job when there is a split court.

The existing California law allows some public-sector unions to collect fees from nonmembers. For example, teachers’ unions can require public school teachers to pay union fees for certain types of collective bargaining. These are called ‘fair share fees’. Proponents of the law claim it would be unfair for these nonmembers to benefit from the successes provided by union lobbying and other efforts, such as higher wages for public teachers. Opponents of the law claim it violates free speech, and that nonmembers should not have to pay for unions when they have disagreements.

How Do Unions Help Workers?

If you are a California public-sector worker, this SCOTUS deadlock will have important implications. Unions allow employees to lobby and organize for better working environments, higher wages and additional rights. We often use this blog to discuss issues such as maternity leave, recovering lost wages and anti-harassment laws. Without well-funded unions, some of these policies would stay stagnant or regress.

Powerful interest groups funded by wealthy backers can outspend unions. Unions use fair share fees to challenge these powerful interests and fight for workers through lobbying efforts. Is it fair for nonmembers to enjoy the benefits unions have provided free-of-charge? Should public school teachers not have to pay fair share fees, but then benefit from higher wages secured by union lobbying efforts? These are important questions that will continue to be answered by state legislatures in the years to come.

The Los Angeles employment law attorneys at Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C. have decades of combined experience fighting to secure the rights of workers.

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