Unions and Non-Member “Fees”

This session, the Supreme Court will hear, among other cases, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association.

On Jan 11 the court will hear arguments on whether public employees can be required to join a union or pay it a fee for collective-bargaining services.

The lawsuit contends such agreements violate First Amendment protections.

The argument is that, with public service unions, such fees also are political speech, since the unions also push for this or that domestic policy with their bargaining counterpart, the government, and there’s no way to separate out the union monies spent for bargaining outcome from those spent for political lobbying.

Such “agreements” (because paying the “fees” isn’t at all a voluntarily entered into arrangement, but a condition of having the job at all) go beyond that, though. They’re also a taking under principle of the 5th Amendment. Even though that Amendment binds the government and not private entities regarding takings, it’s not too far a stretch to apply it to the quasi-government entities of public service unions. Withal, the principle is valid, even if the Amendment itself is not strictly applicable.

Arguments in favor of the “fee” proceed from a false premise, too. “Fee” proponents argue that the payments are fair compensation for the union’s work in achieving an agreement for the nonmembers as well as the members. Of course, this is false on its face. The nonmembers are not represented by the union—that’s pretty obvious. As such, then, any arrangements between nonmembers and employers are strictly that: between the employer and the nonmember. If those arrangements look like what the union bargained for its members, oh well. They’re not required to be, and sometimes they are not.

Unions in Friedrichs also make the following argument:

If the suit prevails, public-employee unions say they could be crippled in about half the states that allow such agency shop clauses.

Couple things about that argument. One is that it may well be inconvenient to the unions (even extremely so), but that isn’t relevant. Either the “fees” are owed for the claimed services rendered, or they are not. The case should be decided on its merits, not on the basis of any supposed knock-on effects.

The other thing is this: so what?

2 thoughts on “Unions and Non-Member “Fees”

  1. The “closed shop” (only union members allowed to work) has been a mainstay of union labor strategy. The “bargaining fee” is simply a closed shop of a different flavor; the end result is forced support of the union. These tactics have provided life support to a patient which has been brain-dead for decades (the labor movement). Ultimately, it only further weakens the unions: Forced participation leads to resentment, and an errosion of solidarity.

    • Forced participation leads to resentment, and an errosion of solidarity.

      Indeed. Just see the outcomes in Wisconsin and various California localities when folks were freed from union bondage.

      Eric Hines

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