According to a recent news article from the Sacramento Bee, the United States Supreme Court held oral arguments on the issue of whether a public union could force employees in a particular sector to pay dues as a mandatory condition of employment.
Specifically, this case at issue is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Currently, the government-run union requires all teachers in the state of California to be a member of the union and to pay around $1,000 per year in membership dues if they want to work as a teacher.
Since the oral arguments, labor union leaders for this and other public unions are reading the transcripts and trying to figure out how the Supreme Court justices might decide on the issue. Essentially, the court could ban mandatory payment of dues to a public union, do nothing and keep things as they are, or make a ruling that attempts to find a middle ground and satisfy the needs of both groups.
When the executive director of the California School Employees Association was asked if they could still exist without the mandatory payments, he said they could, but it would certainly weaken the organization. Part of the reasons California labor laws allows for mandatory payment of dues has to do with issues of presumed fundamental fairness.
For example, if some people choose to be a member of a particular union and spend their money to help the union, the organization might be able to make positive change for the members as well as the non-members who work in the same field. In other words, some public union leaders and state officials have a hard time with others who do not pay dues reaping the benefits paid by others.
Another organization, the public union for professional engineers working in California government, said it did not always have mandatory dues for non-members. However, when they also became concerned that non-members were benefiting from their work without having to pay dues, they felt it was only fair to impose mandatory dues for non-members, and they enacted the provision based upon authorizing legislation. Much like the teacher’s union that is a named defendant in the case before the United States Supreme Court, the engineer’s union says that it will still be able to survive without making everyone pay, but it will slow down the projects they have in the works.
One of the main things about which these organizations are concerned deals with collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). We often hear about collective bargaining agreements in the context of professional sports and athlete contracts, but it applies in public industries as well. Essentially, if the union negotiates for all of the members’ employment provisions, the employees have more power, because the union has strength in numbers.
While one teacher could not make demands, if all of them do, the idea is that the government has to take them more seriously. The unions are concerned that non-members benefit from the CBA without having to pay any dues. This is certainly an issue that our Orange County employment lawyers will be following closely.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
California labor unions react to Supreme Court dues debate, January 11, 2016, The Sacramento Bee, By Jon Oritz
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