Supreme Court Opinion Upholds Union Agency Fees

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

On March 29, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a 4-4 split opinion on the most important labor union controversy in years – whether unions could levy fees on non-union workers. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, had the potential to turn public-sector labor law upside down, but this result will leave the current system of “agency fees” intact, leaving in place a lower court decision that ruled in favor of the unions.

The original lawsuit was brought by non-union public school teachers in California, who objected to paying agency fees to the California Teachers Association union. The rationale behind agency fees – money a union collects from both union and non-union employees for collective bargaining and other functions – is that since unions aren't allowed to discriminate between members and non-members in performing these functions, all employees should pay their fair share of the costs. In Friedrichs, the court contemplated overruling a nearly 40-year-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Abood found that non-union employees may be assessed dues for "collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes." The March 29 ruling effectively affirms About for the entire country. (More than 20 states have enacted statutes authorizing fair share payments.)

More information on this and others cases under consideration by the Supreme Court is available from the State and Local Legal Center.