[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Monday on the First Amendment rights of public teachers who do not wish to pay union fees. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association [transcript, PDF] the court must decide whether public employees who have opted out of a union that represents their interests must still affirmatively opt-out of paying the portion of the union dues that are not directly used for collective bargaining. In 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] affirmed [opinion, PDF] the lower court decision that ruled in favor of the unions. The petitioner’s argument hinges on the idea that a nonmember should not be required to subsidize an outside advocacy group such as a union. The petitioner also argues that an opt-out policy is burdensome, and that collective bargaining is inherently political. The defendant union relies on precedent from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education [opinion] where the court established the legality of such “agency fees” to be levied on non-union members in support of collective bargaining. “Overruling Abood now would substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country,” California Solicitor General Edward Dumont said during oral argument.
Petitioner Rebecca Friedrichs is a California public school teacher who opted out of her union, the California Teachers Association [union website]. Friedrichs argues that she should not have to affirmatively opt-out of dues to that union, as that policy does not uphold her First Amendment rights. The case arose [Oyez Project summary] out of a California law that upholds an opt-out policy for a portion of the fees of nonmembers. Unions cannot compel nonmembers to support its political activities, and unions must send annual notices to nonmembers itemizing the union fees. Under California law, a nonmember must affirmatively opt out yearly to avoid giving the portion of the fees they cannot be compelled to pay. Last year in Harris v. Quinn [opinion, PDF], the court ruled [JURIST report] on a similar union case and decided not to overrule Abood in a 5-4 decision. However, the majority opinion revealed the justices’ apparent displeasure with the Abood framework, perhaps indicating the likelihood of a shift in ideology for the issue in the present case.