By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed a victory on Tuesday to public unions in more than 20 states, including Washington.
The justices split 4-4 in the case of Freidrichs vs. California Teachers Association. That means public unions can continue collecting fees from nonmembers, who still receive representation in bargaining efforts.
“The idea was you’re benefiting from the union, there, in terms of raises, job protections, legislation, and that you should contribute to that, much as you would do to a homeowners’ association or something like that,” said Tim Welch, director of public affairs for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The tie vote upholds a lower court’s decision, which relied on a precedent set almost 40 years ago in the 1977 case of Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education.
While the court agreed in the Abood case that unions cannot charge nonmembers for political activities, it also prevented nonmembers from getting a “free ride” while the union bargained on their behalf. Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said that decision is the foundation for charging what are known as “fair share” fees.
“And that’s why dozens of groups, including the employers of school districts and states, and even Republican legislators, filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the existing ‘fair share’ law,” he said.
If the court had gone the other way, Wood said, unions’ bargaining strengths would have been weakened. However, he said he expects more attacks on unions in the future.
“It’s important for unions and other allies of working people to stand up and fight for the interest of the middle class and other workers,” he said, “and that’s what’s at stake here.”
The Friedrichs case was the first major Supreme Court decision without Justice Antonin Scalia.