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Teachers Union: Economic Equality at Stake in High Court Case

A fee case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could impact public sector unions in the Commonwealth and 24 other states when it comes to collective bargaining and more. (MTA)
A fee case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could impact public sector unions in the Commonwealth and 24 other states when it comes to collective bargaining and more. (MTA)
January 13, 2016

BOSTON - On the surface, it's about the fees unions charge to nonmembers. But local advocates say a case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court impacts how well American democracy functions to address economic inequality.

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni said nonunion members in the Commonwealth pay fees to cover the cost associated with collective-bargaining agreements. They get wage and benefit protections from those agreements, she said, so it only makes sense that they should pay their fair share.

"So, it's really just about making sure that there are no free riders," she said, "and to the degree that people like the Koch brothers want to undermine that, their ultimate goal is to undermine public-sector unions."

Madeloni said the billionaire Koch brothers are among the big-corporate interests behind the case, which seeks to abolish the fees on the grounds that they violate nonunion members' First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in the case, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association.

Madeloni said the case has serious implications for teachers and many other public-sector workers in Massachusetts and 24 other states.

"It's often said, if somebody controls your work site, it doesn't matter whether or not you vote," she said, "so unions are a key piece of our democracy and of our economic well-being."

Madeloni said there is a direct relationship between declining union membership and economic inequality. That's why she said some of the nation's best-known billionaires are backing the lawsuit.

"So, this is the Koch brothers, who have made it really clear that their purpose is to undermine unions, to go after worker rights, and to privatize and profit from the public good," she said.

The MTA helped the National Education Association file a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the lawsuit.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA