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If the court had decided in favor of the teachers union, their decision could have struck down all Right to Work (for less) laws regarding public sector workers.

Brian Young's picture
Mar 29, 2016

In an expected 4-4 decision the Supreme Court has failed to reach a majority in the Friedrichs V. California Teachers Association (CTA) case.  The case, which threaten the rights of public sector unions to collect fair share or agency fees, would have essentially instituted Right to Work (for less) across the entire public sector in the United States.  The tie leaves intact the U.S. Court of Appeals decision which upheld the right of unions to collect agency fees.

The decision is a major win for public sector unions.  During the hearing it became quite clear that the case was going to be close, with experts predicting a liberal conservative split.  That all changed after Justice Antonin Scalia died.  The decision holds in place Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which has served as the precedent, for 40 years, that allows public sector unions to exist and collect dues. 

The National Education Association (NEA), one of the union respondents on the case, released a statement following the decision. “In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

According to the NEA, hundreds of friends of the court briefs were filed in support of the fair share fees.  They included twenty-one states, dozens of cities, nearly 50 Republican lawmakers, school districts and public hospitals. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court reaffirms that it is in the best interest of our students and our communities for educators to have a strong voice on the job,” said CTA President Eric C. Heins.

The split decision is win for unions, because no precedent will be set.  That means that the decision of the lower court holds it is only the law for the states that are within the 9th Circuit where the case was heard.  If the court had decided in favor of the CTA, their decision could have struck down all Right to Work (for less) laws regarding public sector workers.

This decision also means that the upcoming fight to fill the open Supreme Court vacancy will become more heated.  Now whoever gets put on the court will determine whether or not this case or a similar case come before the court again.  If the next justice is supportive of unions, the likelihood is that the anti-union forces will not bother to bring the case up again.  However, if the next nominee does not support unions, the people behind the Friedrich’s case will again try to fast track their case to the Supreme Court. So while organized labor is celebrating today, they still need to continue to organize their members to go out and vote this November.

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