Supreme Court to review public employee unions’ ability to garnish wages

June 30, 2015 | By DEBORAH LA FETRA

The California Teachers Association—one of the most politically powerful groups in the state—may have to start funding its political campaigns with the money of only those teachers who actually support its goals.  Unlike other groups that seek donations from like-minded people who support the organizations’ goals, the CTA has long benefited from a combination of not-so-sweet legal deals.  First, California law that forces all public school teachers—union members or not—to pay chargeable dues to the labor union that represents them, regardless of whether they are union members. Dues are deemed “chargeable” if they are related to collective bargaining.  State law also forces all public school teachers to pay for “nonchargeable” political and ideological activities unless they expressly opt-out of those payments with a written notice to the union.  Of course, the window for opting-out is very short and the union makes only the most minimal effort to inform teachers of their rights.  If a teacher doesn’t want to support the union’s politicking, but fails to file her objection within the six-week window, she must pay the entire amount.  Rebecca Friedrichs and other teachers are challenging these laws as unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution in a case named Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, brought by the Center for Individual Rights.

The teachers lost in the lower courts because their claims are currently foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which established the “opt-out” regime.  Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Friedrichs case to decide whether to overrule Abood and require the union to obtain affirmative consent from the teachers before taking their wages.  As amicus curiae, PLF supported the petition, arguing that the age of public pension bombs is an ideal time to review the public employee unions’ ability to garnish workers’ paychecks for the inherently political act of collective bargaining for taxpayer-funded wages and benefits.  Moreover, the Court significantly weakened Abood in  two recent union dues cases—Knox v. Service Employees International Union and Harris v. Quinn—both of which noted that the decision in Abood was based on faulty premises and an unrealistic view of public-employee unionism, with the resulting infringement on individual rights.