Going after public unions is a popular line of attack when governments are strapped for cash or in risk of filing for bankruptcy. But for the first time in a while, the efficacy of public unions was challenged by one of its members. The case, whether or not dues are compulsory, wound its way up to the Supreme Court
The right to form a union and collectively bargain is a long-established right in California and Federal law. But recent efforts by political groups to weaken the power of unions have partially succeeded. Their efforts culminated in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, decision.
It appeared during oral arguments in January of this year that the court would side with the challengers and rule the compulsory contribution of union dues as unconstitutional. People can opt out of the union and were able to obtain refunds of contributions made to political causes and other non-union activities. But the portion of the union dues that went to operating the union and collective bargaining were kept by the union.
The teachers argued that this constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights. Union representatives argued that those teachers benefited from collective bargaining and it is only fair to require them to pay for those benefits. Additionally, they argued that without compulsory payments they would no longer be able to operate efficiently because the entire roster of voters could choose to withdraw from the union but still insist on the benefits negotiated by the union.
But, the recent passing of Justice Scalia left the court bereft of a conservative majority. The Court tied at a 4-4 decision which leaves the lower court ruling intact (which sided with the union) but fails to establish any clear precedent.
The right to form a union is a fundamental right to every employee. If you believe your employer is infringing on your other civil rights, then you may have a valid employment claim and may want to consult with an attorney. You don't need to sacrifice your rights because your employer is trying to take them, you can stand up for yourself and your co-workers.