Supreme Court upholds agency fee system
NEARI President Larry Purtill issued this statement following the March 29 Supreme Court vote on Friedrichs v. CTA: "This was a great decision for unions and working people. This case was about breaking unions and the power workers have when they join together. It had nothing to do with education. The Koch Brothers and other right wing billionaires are attacking unions in an effort to increase their power. Working people need strong unions to stand up for salaries, benefits and pensions."
Friedrichs vs. CTA was a lawsuit filed by several teachers in California challenging the law that allows the union to collect fair share dues from members who do not wish to join. Because the case was at the Supreme Court level, a final ruling would not have been limited to California, but could have affected unions across America, including NEARI.
Fair share – called "agency fee" in Rhode Island – is the percentage of dues a union can charge to non-members for the services it provides to everyone in the bargaining unit, whether or not they are members. Non-members cannot be charged for a union’s political activities, but can be charged for services related to contract negotiations and enforcement. That is known as fair share/agency fee. In Rhode Island, that amount can be up to 85 percent of the full membership dues.
Without agency fee, employees in the bargaining unit who chose not to join the union would reap the benefits of union representation without paying anything, raising the cost for everyone else.
The current fair share system is a good compromise and common sense. Right now, no one is forced to join a union, but unions are legally required to represent all workers. Teachers and public employees who don’t want to belong to a union only have to contribute to the costs of the representation they receive.
If the court banned fair share, it would make it harder for teachers, firefighters, and nurses to negotiate for wages, benefits and public services. Some states have already made fair share fees illegal, and the result is lower wages and worse benefits for working people. In states without full union rights, the average worker makes $1,500 less per year, workers are much less likely to have health insurance, and the rate of workplace deaths is 36% higher.
Friedrichs v. CTA was supported and financed by a Who's Who of national anti-union groups. They based their legal arguments on First Amendment grounds, claiming that requiring non-members to pay agency fee dues is the same as forcing them to support the union’s political actions.
However, their real objective was not to protect free speech, but to silence the voices of working men and women by weakening the unions that represent working- and middle-class Americans. These anti-union groups saw this as their best opportunity in many years to weaken the union movement.