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Supreme Court Hands Unions a Major Victory

With a tie vote in the Supreme Court, its ruling on labor unions' right to collect dues from people they represent but who don't want to join will not set a precedent. (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
With a tie vote in the Supreme Court, its ruling on labor unions' right to collect dues from people they represent but who don't want to join will not set a precedent. (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
March 30, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. - A divided U.S. Supreme Court has given labor unions an important victory. The case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, challenged the right of public-sector unions to collect dues from those who choose not to join but benefit from collective-bargaining agreements.

Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, which represents State University of New York faculty, said the 4-4 vote in the Supreme Court means the court's 1977 ruling in a similar case, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, still stands.

"And Abood requires that everyone that we represent pay dues for the representation we provide for them, the protections we provide and the benefits we negotiate for them," he said.

The case had been seen as an attempt by libertarian and conservative groups to further erode the power of labor unions. However, the fight is far from over. Kowal said about 17 other lawsuits are challenging unions that may end up in the Supreme Court. He said the unions are fighting back.

"We are doing it in the UUP, and I know unions across the country have racheted up organizing campaigns to commit their members to their union," he said, "so that together we can fight for a better economic situation for everyone in the working class."

Observers have said the tie vote in the Supreme Court is a reflection of the sharp political divide that exists with the recent death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Kowal noted that even Chief Justice John Roberts has raised concerns about the Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate refusing to consider President Obama's nominee for a replacement.

"There is a real danger in what the majority is doing in the United States Senate in terms of the long-term legitimacy for the Supreme Court," he said, "and, for that matter, the legitimacy of the U.S. Constitution."

Kowal added that the legitimacy of the court also depends on the public's belief in its impartiality.

The ruling is online at supremecourt.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY