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Friedrichs Case Threatens Strong Unions and Workers Rights

Friedrichs Case Threatens Strong Unions and Workers Rights

Supreme Court Building


Last Monday, the Supreme Court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that challenges the constitutionality of “fair-share” fees levied on members of public sector unions. In 23 states and the District of Columbia, nine million public employees pay fees to their unions, which negotiate worker’s salaries and other terms of contracts. The petitioners argue that they should not be required to pay these fees, under their first amendment right to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, without all employees paying fair union dues, unions will be unable to effectively engage in collective bargaining for their members.

Unions have always been the driving force behind the improving conditions of American workers. The Center for American Progress reports that members of unions earn 13.6% higher wages than their non-union counterparts. In 2012, union members were 28.2% more likely to be covered by employer health insurance and nearly 54% more likely to receive a pension. The Economic Policy Institute shows that union workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% total paid leave time. Simply put, unions are good for workers. 

If the Supreme Court strikes down mandatory “fair-share fees” employees would still gain the benefits of union collective bargaining, but would have little incentive to pay fees. It is already illegal to require union members to pay for union political activities, so these fees only cover the cost involved in collective bargaining. The court previously determined that unions could require these fair-share fees in a previous case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977). This case determined that union fair-share fees were considered speech, but that they could be assessed to all workers because of the importance to the system of labor created by Congress. Ruling that these fees are no longer constitutional would fly in the face of this precedent.

The Jewish tradition teaches, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land,” (Deuteronomy 24:14). When we create the conditions for labor unions to thrive, we secure institutions that have fought for worker’s wages for much of American history. Unions provide workers the organization by which they can stand up with dignity and demand the fair treatment they deserve. It is incumbent on us, to stand up for a labor system that supports strong unions that can fight for these fair conditions. The future of public sector unions may be at stake in the outcome of this decision, and this will have important ramifications for how we as a society treat low wage workers.

We can also enhance the conditions of low wage workers by ensuring those who work full time can earn enough money to support their families. Urge Congress to Pass the Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 2150/ S. 1150), legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2021. Learn more about this and other labor issues at the RAC’s labor page.



Published: 1/19/2016