In January, we reported on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a Supreme Court case which took public-sector labor law under serious consideration for the first time in decades. Fast forward a few months and a verdict has been reached: The Court split along ideological lines and came to a 4-4 decision, upholding the status quo and sparing union bosses a serious headache.
Had the decision gone in favor of California schoolteacher and lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs—as was expected prior to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death—it could have essentially made “right-to-work” the law of the land for state and local employees, an expansion of employees’ right to control whether they fund union representation with which they disagree or not. Friedrichs considered striking down state laws which require non-members of public-sector unions to pay forced dues (so-called “agency fees”) or lose their jobs—even if they aren’t officially union members. As it stands now in non-right-to-work states, even nonunion employees must pay agency fees if their workplace is under union control.
Given the nature of public employment—the union is negotiating with a government it can help elect or throw out of office—that means all employees essentially pay for the union’s political agenda. Friedrichs and nine other plaintiffs argued this violated their right to freedom of speech—or, in this case, compelled speech.
“We’re not asking to end those unions, we’re not asking for them to stop being in business, we’re just asking for the freedom not to pay them. We’re just asking for the freedom to not have to be represented by them,” Friedrichs told The Daily Caller several weeks ago. “Members are forced and we don’t have a choice and even though the union says it speaks on behalf of all teachers in reality the union speaks on behalf of itself.”
Alas, the Court has ruled and the plaintiffs’ petitions went unanswered. It confirms the best shot at labor reform lies on Capitol Hill. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), national legislation reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), would update American labor law and guarantee secret ballot union elections, employee privacy during union organizing campaigns, and employees’ control of dues money spent for non-work political causes—among other reforms.
Employees need more say in representing their own interests. And it’s now up to Congress to provide it.