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Union Fair Share Fees – Blatant Extortion

Earlier this week the Supreme Court heard arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that asks whether public workers who are not members of a union can be forced to pay “fair share service fees” in order to cover the cost of collective bargaining. A group of California teachers is suing to end the compulsory fees, which costs them $650 per year instead of the $1000 that union members pay. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have articles indicating that the tone of the proceedings seemed to indicate a majority of the Justices would be voting to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the fees.

Los Angeles Times– “Everything that is collectively bargaining is within the political sphere,” Justice Antonin Scalia said.

So the key question, according to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., is “whether or not individuals can be compelled to support political views that they disagree with.”

On Monday, Kennedy made clear he saw the forced fees as a free-speech violation.

“Many teachers strongly, strongly disagree with the union position on teacher tenure, teacher pay, on merit pay, on merit promotion, on classroom size,” he told the California state lawyer. These are “matters of public concern…. The agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree must nevertheless subsidize the unions on these very points.”

New York Times– The larger threat, the unions and their supporters say, is that a decision in the plaintiffs’ favor would encourage many workers who are perfectly happy with the work of their unions to make the economically rational decision to opt out of paying for it.

Edward C. DuMont, California’s solicitor general, arguing in support of the union, did not dispute that collective bargaining involved political issues that implicate workers’ First Amendment rights.

“There are deep public policy implications to many of the topics and to the general tenor of public employee bargaining,” he said.

But he said the government’s interests outweighed those rights. “We need to be able to run our workplaces,” he said.

Mr. DuMont added that workers remained free to speak out in other settings.

That did not sit well with Justice Kennedy. If a worker “is required to pay $500 for someone to espouse a belief that he doesn’t share,” Justice Kennedy said, it would be small comfort “that he is now free to go out and argue against it. That means he has to spend another $500 so that it balances out? That makes no sense.”

Long before Oklahoma became a right-to-work state in 2001, my first ‘real’ job was with one of the larger cities in the state. Not long after starting, I received an envelope containing a letter and a card. The card was an authorization card for the city to deduct union fees from my paycheck or the “fair share fees” if I opted to not join the union. Either way, I was to sign and return the card. The letter was from the president of the city employees union, which was a chapter of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). He informed me in a threatening tone that I was to sign and return the card by the specified date or he would see to it my city employment was terminated.

I wanted nothing to do with the union as I was well aware that AFSCME was a supporter of the Democrats, but in order to keep my job, I signed the card to authorize the deduction of the “fair share fees” from my paycheck. Blatant extortion.

Unions may say that the “fair share fees” cover the cost of collective bargaining and don’t go toward political activities, but any financial support going to a union is assisting them in their endeavors, including political lobbying. Forcing someone under threat of termination to remit the extortion fees is to force someone to implicitly support, fund and give voice to political activities with which they might disagree. This violates the First Amendment right to free speech and association. Naturally, liberals don’t agree with this but if the tables were turned and the unions were supportive of Republicans you can bet they’d change their position on the fees.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule in June that “fair share fees” are a violation of the First Amendment and this unconstitutional practice can be ended.

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