By Joshua Pechthalt
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that asks whether all workers in public sector unions, be they members or not, have an obligation to contribute to the union’s costs to represent them in grievances and at the bargaining table.
The court has already ruled that unions have an obligation to represent non-members and that is not likely to change. It also ruled that non-members have an obligation to contribute to the costs of representation and bargaining. If the court now rules in favor of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the justices would be overturning a nearly 40-year precedent.
This may seem like a technical issue with little impact beyond public employee unions. But the implications of this decision could be far-reaching. If the court ends “fair share” union dues, it would hurt our unions’ ability to represent our members and weaken our ability to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.
For those of us in education, it could also undercut our ability to improve learning and teaching conditions by advocating for smaller class sizes, restoring art and music programs and improving teacher training and evaluation. While non-members do not contribute to the political program of their unions, the erosion of union funds will have an impact on our ability to organize in all aspects of union work.
The most obvious example is how the labor movement supported Proposition 30 in 2012. Union support for that historic measure, which raised income taxes on California’s wealthiest individuals, has generated more than $6 billion a year for education and ended years of devastating cuts and layoffs. Millions of students have benefited. Continue reading