U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Agency Fee Case

In a move with enormous implications for the entire U.S. labor movement, the Supreme Court announced this week that it will hear a case next year that could determine if agency fees in the public sector are a violation of free speech and association rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, brought by a small group of California teachers and backed by right-wing conservative groups, aims to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Decided in 1977, the court ruled in Abood that public sector unions could charge non-members an “agency shop” fee to cover costs related to representation in collective bargaining.

Unions in the public and private sector have long argued that non-members should pay a service fee because unions are required to represent all workers in a bargaining unit who reap the benefit from union representation and collective bargaining.

The California teacher’s case follows last summer’s decision in Harris v. Quinn, which ruled against agency fees in Illinois for home health care workers.  In that case, the Court indicated an interest in hearing a broader free speech challenge that could potentially overturn the Abood precedent for all public sector workers.

If the dissident teacher wins in Friedrichs, the First Amendment WOULD require the entire public sector be right to work. Such a ruling would almost certainly lead to a similar challenge in the private sector claiming that the entire country must be right to work to protect the first amendment rights of non-members.

The Supreme Court will decide the Freidrich’s case by next June.