Following the unexpected passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February, an impending crisis for the American labor movement has been temporarily averted. Justice Scalia, who is no friend of organized labor, was expected to be the critical swing vote in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which is a case that would determine whether public sector unions can continue to require “fair share” fees from non-members for the rights and benefits provided from collective bargaining. Learn more about the case here.
Those who were hoping that Scalia would split from the conservative bloc of the Court and vote to uphold nearly 40 years of legal precedent allowing contractual fair share agreements were sorely disappointed by the hostile tone he took toward the union’s position during oral arguments.
Without his vote, the Court issued a 4-4 ruling in late March, which serves to affirm the decision of the lower 9th Circuit Court. Because the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the California Teachers Association, public sector unions will continue to enjoy the unimpeded right to collect dues from their membership as if the Friedrichs case had never reached the Supreme Court’s docket.
However, the case could still be reargued in front of a full bench once a new justice has been appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, in which case it will likely be a while before we know the final outcome of the case, given the entrenched and bitter partisanship that exists within the halls of Congress. Congressional Republicans have already declared that they will oppose any and all of President Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court, no matter the political consequences. Presumably, this stalemate could continue until a new president has been elected.
“Although public sector unions dodged a bullet, the anti-union forces are continuing their attacks aimed at destroying the labor movement,” noted the IBEW 1245 Organizing team. “These attacks are happening in state legislatures, the courts and through their well-funded propaganda war to influence public opinion.”
Now is not the time to sit back and breathe easy; we need to be ever-vigilant in reminding friends, family, and colleagues of the benefits of being union strong!
Alex Pacheco is the staff attorney at IBEW 1245.