Oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

On Jan. 11, the Supreme Court hears what may well be the most important case of the term. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, 10 teachers have challenged a state requirement that they support political causes with which they disagree and that hurt their students.

At issue is a kind of law that exists in 25 states which forces public-sector workers either to join a union or pay an amount that covers the cost of the union’s collective bargaining. For California teachers, that means annual dues of about $1,000 or “agency fees” of about two-thirds that amount.

Ilya Shapiro and Jason Bedrick, Orange County Register. More: Shapiro and Jayme Weber, The Federalist; Richard Epstein, Robert Alt first, second (empirical evidence that unions can do well even when nonmembers not obliged to pay agency fees), third (stare decisis) posts, George Will. Earlier on Friedrichs and its predecessor cases Harris v. Quinn and Knox v. SEIU. A contrary view: New York Times editorial.


  • What’s interesting to me—even if one assumes that First Amendment interests can be traded for having an enforced agent–what if the “agent” decides not to do all it can for non-members? Seems to me that someone who doesn’t support the union and who only wants to pay the so-called fair share is put in a position where he or she has to trust the union. Unions don’t always act above-board. Restated, the trading of rights for representation is an enforced bargain where one end doesn’t have to be held up.

    Also, given SEIU’s history (e.g., invading a BofA employee’s yard) should anyone have to support that union as a condition to government employment? And what if you don’t like what some union officers say in the course of the union officers’ employment–should people have to contribute money in order pay those officers’ salaries as a condition to government employment?

  • Legislated exclusivity, and mandated payments by every employee denies individual choice to negotiate for one’s self, or have a competing union.

    A union can and does monopolize an industry to a far greater extent than any one business can. And individual employees are powerless against the tyranny of their union, the very tyranny that unions purport to protect employees from.

  • Kind of funny, in a way. In order to oppose the law, unions must concede that union members who are not forced to pay union dues, will not do so.
    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, and he was pretty steamed.

  • The issue at hand is how to balance the rights of individual members dissatisfied with their union representation against the collective need of the bargaining unit to deal with large employers. For better or worse, Congress has passed laws to help workers by preventing judges from applying monopoly laws and injunctions against unions. When a post-war Congress decided that the labor laws of the Depression were too tilted toward the unions and passed Taft-Hartley, which among other things allowed each state to decide if unions would have the right of closed shops.

    The point is that all of these policies were enacted through the legislative process. There’s nothing to prevent Congress from mandating open shops nationwide or for individual states to switch to open shop status, which several states have in fact done in recent years. The problem I have with Walter’s position on this is a site supposedly committed to arguing against continuing overreach by the judiciary. Most of his posts are in keeping with this, but he seems to be perfectly willing to argue for judicial intervention whenever the end results are in keeping with his personal policy preferences.

    • PaulB, everyone agrees (libs and conservatives) that there are First Amendment issues at stake here. So it’s hardly judicial activism to ensure that the First Amendment rights are respected. Even if Friedrichs loses, how would you deal with the First Amendment issues I have raised?

  • […] thought things went well for the plaintiffs’ side in yesterday’s oral argument in the much-watched case over the First Amendment and teachers’ union dues, Friedrichs v. California Teachers […]

  • Federal employees in all 50 states that are the member of a bargaining unit do not have to become members of the union or pay dues. Of course you get pretty much what you pay for… And don’t pat the fed on their back too much either, they have some pretty nasty union busting tricks if they get too annoyed.