Many of you know that there is a case pending before the Supreme Court which could dramatically alter the ability of public employee unions to collect agency or “fair share” fees. The case, known as “Friedrichs v California Teachers Association” was heard by the court in January, but no decision has been issued. Most observers of the court projected that unions would lose that case by a 5 to 4 vote. It was widely felt that Justice Scalia would have been one of the majority voting against fair share fees.
Now, with the court divided 4 to 4, the lower court decision, which affirmed the rights of public employee unions to collect fair share fees will stand and public employee unions will continue to collect agency or fair share fees.
The looming Friedrichs case had a galvanizing effect on unions across the country spurring a wave of organizing and rethinking the very nature of the relationship of unions with our members.
This has been a positive development at Local 328, changing everything from how we do new employee orientations, to how we handle grievances, our steward program, membership outreach, our method of communications and our willingness and desire to use direct member actions to draw attention to and resolve workplace issues.
One thing is certain. This is only a temporary reprieve. There will be new court challenges to unions in the future, there will be statewide ballot measures, there will be attempts to eliminate fair share fees in the legislature.
The well-funded groups attacking unions will view this as a setback, not a defeat. We become complacent at our peril.
As Shaun Richman said in his article for In These Times:
“The actual crisis in labor is rooted in a framework that has turned unions into agencies for workers, instead of organizations of workers.”
Read the entire article in In These Times.
Labor will be missing an opportunity if we do not continue the changes that Friedrichs sparked. We will find ourselves facing that problem again, inevitably.
We have been warned, the rest is up to us.