Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

While some get excited for fall because the leaves change, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks and the temperatures drop, court watchers get excited because a new U.S. Supreme Court term is beginning. The Court is taking up a variety of interesting cases this term ranging from affirmative action in undergraduate admissions to redistricting. A particularly interesting case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al. The case involves ten nonunion public school teachers who argue their free speech rights are violated by having to pay the equivalent of union dues.

The main issues in this case are whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and whether it violates the First Amendment to require employees to pay “fair share” fees. In Abood the Supreme Court held that public employees may be required to pay union dues, or their equivalent, to their local union affiliate even if they have opted to not join the union. This has become colloquially known as a “fair share” fee. The argument is that since public sector unions negotiate on behalf of all public sector employees, even if they are not part of the union, the union should be compensated for those negotiations by all employees.

In 2014 the Supreme Court took on a similar case, Harris v. Quinn. In that case the Court declined to extend the Abood precedent to Illinois home-health workers. However the Court stopped short of blocking unions from collecting such fees from other public employees. In his opinion Justice Alito hinted that the Court would be responsive to a case with a more generally applicable set of facts that challenged Abood head-on. Friedrichs & Co seem to have taken the hint.