Date: January 11, 2016
Contact: Kevin Glass
With oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association today, the U.S. Supreme Court has an opportunity to strike a blow for freedom and set a new precedent upholding the First Amendment rights of public sector workers across the country.
At the core of the case is the question of whether public employee unions can require workers to pay a collective bargaining “agency fee” as a condition of employment. Rebecca Friedrichs and the teachers arguing against their union believe they should not be forced to support their union’s collective bargaining that they disagree with or that may even prove detrimental to them.
As Robert Alt and a number of other experts have pointed out, a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would not lead to the end of unions as we know it, nor would it create a “free-rider” problem, as some union advocates claim. It would simply allow Ms. Friedrichs – and many other public workers just like her – to go to work with a clear conscience.
Even though the precedent set by Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education stands in the way of these California teachers, it need not be a final deterrent. America is constantly in the process of correcting past abuses of freedom and moving toward a more fair and just society. This case is ultimately about protecting the rights of a dissenting minority. No worker should compelled to pay membership dues or fees to a labor union that advocates for positions he or she disagrees with.
It doesn’t matter whether those positions are explicitly political or more subtly out of alignment with one’s principles and worldview. The court has already affirmed the right to opt out of paying union dues or fees that fund official political activity. It’s time to admit that, in the case of public sector unions, collective bargaining is in and of itself a political activity. We pay our public servants to work hard for the common good, and they have a right to speak freely with their money just like any other citizen.