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- William L. Messenger, Staff Attorney, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Counsel for Petitioners in Harris v. Quinn
Professor Richard Epstein, Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, continues to give an brief history of unions and collective bargaining -- focusing on changes in markets resulting from globalization and discussing the instance of unions in the Japanese automobile industry.
Professor Richard Epstein, Professor of Law at NYU School of Law, gives a brief history of unions and collective bargaining - beginning with the New Deal and the industrial age and running through some of the changes in our economy over the last 80 years.
On January 11, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Under California law and existing Supreme Court precedent, unions can become the exclusive bargaining representative for the public school employees of their district and establish an “agency shop” arrangement requiring public school employees either to join the union or pay a fee to support the union’s collective bargaining activities. Although the First Amendment prohibits unions from compelling non-members to support activities unrelated to collective bargaining, in California non-members must affirmatively “opt out” to avoid paying for these unrelated or “nonchargeable” expenses.
Here a group of public school employees sued the California Teachers Association and various other entities, arguing that the agency shop arrangement itself--as well as the opt-out requirement--violated the First Amendment. The district court denied their claim and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed based on existing precedent and the 1997 Supreme Court decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
The two questions now before the Supreme Court are: (1) Whether the Abood precedent should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.
To discuss the case, we have Richard A. Epstein, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University School of Law and Professor Emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
In Friedrichs, the Court will consider whether to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which held that public employees can be compelled to financially support union collective-bargaining with government, but not union political activities. The Court’s grant of certiorari in Friedrichs came on the one-year anniversary of its decision in Harris v. Quinn, where the Court criticized Abood’s rationales, but did not overrule Abood. Unlike Harris, Friedrichs squarely presents the issue decided in Abood—whether public school teachers can be required to pay compulsory union fees as condition of their employment.
The Friedrichs petitioners argue that Abood should be overturned because there is no distinction between bargaining with government and lobbying government—both are political speech. The respondent California Teachers Association, however, counters that union bargaining with government is akin to bargaining with a private employer, and that it is wrongful for teachers to get a “free ride” on union bargaining efforts.
Is the Court likely to overrule Abood? And what will be the implications if it does?
Bill Messenger attended the oral arguments and offered his impressions and predictions during this Courthouse Steps Teleforum conference call.