California Teacher Hopes New Suit Can Finally End Forced Unionism

Woman whose case deadlocked at Supreme Court in 2016 hopes Gorsuch can overturn 40-year precedent

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June 6, 2017

The woman at the center of the forced dues case that deadlocked in the Supreme Court in 2016 hopes that two new legal challenges can overturn mandatory union representation for government employees.

Longtime California elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs told the Washington Free Beacon she was "thrilled" to learn the National Right to Work Foundation had petitioned the high court to reconsider the 1977 Abood decision, which allowed government agencies to make the payment of union dues a condition of employment.

"I'm thrilled that others across the country are continuing the work that we began and I'm relieved that cases are already reaching the court," she said. "I am so proud of [the plaintiffs] because you take a lot of heat when you stand up. I'm grateful for them hopefully finishing this fight."

The foundation submitted briefs on Tuesday asking the court to hear Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 31 and Hill v. Service Employees International Union, Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas. Both cases arose out of Illinois.

The Janus case challenges whether "public employees can constitutionally be forced to subsidize union speech to influence government policymakers" in the form of dues paid to a labor union, according to petition filed to the court. The Hill case was brought by several home healthcare workers who object to the state's treatment of SEIU as the voice of their industry.

"Petitioners oppose being forced to associate with SEIU and its advocacy. In their Amended Complaint, they allege that the First Amendment prohibits the State and SEIU from forcing them to accept SEIU as their mandatory agent for speaking and contracting with the State over public policies that affect their professions," the petition says.

The questions raised in the suit mirror many of the objections raised in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Friedrichs, who had previously served as a union official, brought a suit against the CTA and her school district in 2014 arguing that forcing her to pay partial union dues or agency fees represented compelled political advocacy because all negotiations include taxpayer dollars and affect government budgets.

"When unions coerce dues much of the money is being used for overt political purposes. They use those dues to place candidates in office and then use collective bargaining to sit across the table from the politicians they put in office," she said. "Every single thing they bargain for is political. The taxpayers who foot the bill don't get invited to the table."

Her case reached the Supreme Court in January 2016. Friedrichs was confident that the court would overturn Abood and put an end to forced unionism following oral arguments in which the justices grilled lawyers for the union and school district.

"The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition. Should the government pay higher wages or lesser wages? Should it promote teachers on the basis of seniority or on the basis of all of those questions are necessarily political questions," Justice Antonin Scalia said at one point.

Scalia died in February 2016 before the case was decided. In the wake of his death, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4. The tie represented a victory for the union because lower courts did not have the authority to overturn the Abood precedent. The court rejected a petition from Friedrichs to rehear the case once a ninth justice was appointed.

Bill Messenger, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in both cases, said that Friedrichs' lawsuit helped pave the way for future suits challenging Abood.

"Most of us thought we'd be living in a post-Abood world already with the Friedrichs case," he said in an exclusive interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "There are certainly common issues between the two."

Friedrichs said that she was devastated by Scalia's untimely death, but is hopeful that Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch will break the tie and put an end to the practice of forced dues payments.

"It was pretty clear to everyone in the room where our case was headed during oral arguments. That was a rough day when we lost Justice Scalia," Friedrichs said. "I have a lot of hope and I applaud our new president for appointing someone who interprets the Constitution in a similar way to Justice Scalia."

Neither AFSCME nor SEIU returned requests for comment.

Published under: Supreme Court , Unions