The recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dramatically changes the prospects for the anti-unionFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, but it doesn’t change the need to strengthen our union through organizing and member engagement. Attacks from the right continue unabated, including cases similar to Friedrichs that are already before state and federal courts. We can only stop them with a united front that is pro-educator, pro-student and pro-public-education.
In the Friedrichs case, 10 California teachers backed by the virulently anti-union Center for Individual Rights are seeking to abolish the right of public employee unions — including the MTA and our local affiliates — to collect “agency” or “fair share” fees from employees who object to union membership. Those fees are used to offset the cost of bargaining on behalf of all employees, including the objectors.
After arguments were heard in the case in January, many court observers believed that Friedrichs would be decided against our side by a 5-4 vote, with Scalia in the majority. Now that Scalia has died, the future of this case is up in the air, as described in this article. There are several different ways this case could play out now. Here are two leading options for what could happen next:
· The court could hand down a 4-4 decision, most likely by the end of June. In the case of a tie, the lower court’s ruling would stand. The lower court sided with the CTA, so this would be a reprieve for us, and a Supreme Court decision would come in a future case.
· The court could hold the case over for re-argument after a new justice is confirmed. Since leading Senate Republicans have vowed not to confirm any nominee put forward by President Barack Obama, it appears unlikely that a ninth justice will be named until a new president is elected.
In either instance, however, we can’t stop the hard work already begun of building a stronger union — in which members connect with each other and build collective power at the local and statewide levels. As noted above, there are many other anti-union cases working their way through the courts — and there are many anti-union bills before state legislatures.
The attacks, which are part of a larger assault on unions and the public good, come in many forms — from promoting non-union charter schools to making it much more difficult for unions to collect dues to attacking agency fee requirements.
These are particularly perilous times for unions and public education. But the best defense is offense. Through building relationships, organizing and rethinking collective bargaining, we will become a union so strong that efforts to undermine our rights backfire and simply make members more committed, more involved and more effective than ever.
We will keep you posted as the Friedrichs case and our Stronger Together member organizing efforts develop.