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Public Unions Prevail in Supreme Court's Split Decision

Unions can charge nonmembers in Oregon and 22 other states with fair-share service-fee laws. (UpstateNYer/Wikimedia Commons)
Unions can charge nonmembers in Oregon and 22 other states with fair-share service-fee laws. (UpstateNYer/Wikimedia Commons)
March 30, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - Public unions triumphed Tuesday from a split U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The justices voted 4-4 in the case of Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. That means public unions in more than 20 states, including Oregon, can continue collecting fees from nonmembers in exchange for representing them in bargaining efforts.

Hanna Vaandering, a physical education teacher and head of the Oregon Education Association, said her union is happy with the decision, but ready to move on.

"This has been a distraction," she said, "and we look forward to doing the work that'll make a difference for our students."

The tie vote in the first major case to be decided without Justice Antonin Scalia upheld a lower court's decision, which relied on a precedent set almost 40 years ago in the case of Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education. In the Abood case, the court agreed that unions can't charge nonmembers for political activities, but it also required nonmembers to pay for representation if the union bargains on their behalf.

Public unions in states that have so-called "fair share" fees for representation celebrated the Supreme Court's decision. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, echoed their feeling that the case was politically motivated.

"We're proud to join with our brothers and sisters across public service today to acknowledge the loss that wealthy special interests were just dealt." she said.

Oregon is one of 23 states where the laws allow unions to charge nonmembers fair share or service fees for representing them.

The ruling is online at supremecourt.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR