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California Teachers Union Braces for High Court Decision

Union leaders say they are pessimistic that the high court will rule in their favor in the Janus vs. AFSCME case. (Kconnors/Morguefile)
Union leaders say they are pessimistic that the high court will rule in their favor in the Janus vs. AFSCME case. (Kconnors/Morguefile)
February 27, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California union leaders are speaking out as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could deal a big financial blow to public-sector unions and the causes they support.

Arguments started Monday in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The court could decide that states do not have the right to allow public-employee unions to charge nonmembers fair-share agency fees.

California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt sees the case as a transparent move by conservatives to hurt unions that will have both short- and long-term effects.

"The short-term being hurting public-sector unions, and the long-term being the ability of working people to fight for better wages and fight for decent health care and retirement," he warns. "That's really what's on the agenda, long-term."

Conservative groups argue that no one should be required to contribute to a public-employee union that may take political positions the person doesn't agree with. However, agency fees, which are typically 50 to 70 percent of the fee to join, cannot by law be used to pay for political advocacy or union elections.

Union supporters argue that people who don't join a union still benefit from the labor agreements it negotiates, so it's only fair that they contribute.

According to Pechthalt, nonmembers' dues constitute a small percentage of the union's revenues, but he's bracing for a big campaign funded by conservative mega-donors to undermine union strength.

"As we understand it, the Koch brothers are ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get union members to give up their unions," he says.

Fair-share agency fees for public-service unions became legal in the 1970s in the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case. Last year, that case was challenged and the court split 4-4 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving the fees in place. Now, all eyes will be on Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative who was nominated by President Donald Trump.

A decision is expected by June.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA