The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to consider the constitutionality of requirements that public employees who are not members of a union must pay a share of union fees.
The court will hear the case in the fall.
A group of public school teachers in California challenged a state law that requires non-members of teachers unions to pay a portion of union dues, to cover the cost of collective bargaining for wages and benefits and lobbying activities. Non-union teachers are able to file a notice every year that they want to opt out of paying any fees not directly related to contract negotiations.
The non-union teachers claim that paying the fees, and having to opt out to avoid the fees, violates their free speech rights, especially if they don't agree with the union's position on public issues.
"In this era of broken municipal budgets and a national crisis in public education, it is difficult to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money cash-strapped local governments should devote to public employees, or what policies public schools should adopt to best educate children," says Michael Carvin, a Washington, DC lawyer representing the non-union teachers.
Since 1977, the Supreme Court has held that public employees who are not represented by a union may be required to pay their fair share of union activities that benefit them, to avoid what's called free-riding.
Union officials fear a ruling in this case would weaken organized labor and discourage union membership.