The future of unions in the United States: that's what many say is at stake in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Supreme Court case.
Ten California teachers who have opted out of joining the teachers union argue that they should not be forced to pay what's called "fair share" fees, which are union dues that even non-union members are forced to pay.
The Supreme Court's decision could have a chilling effect on the labor movement, especially in states like Illinois, where Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has made labor reform a top priority. Last year, Rauner signed an executive order to allow workers who choose not to join a union from paying "fair share" fees to fund union activity.
“Other states have said collective bargaining is illegal inside government. We’re not saying that,” Rauner said last August. “We’re saying let local voters decide. Many want collective bargaining. If you want that, keep it. Speaker [Michael] Madigan needs to acknowledge that many people in Illinois ... want to be able to decide what gets collectively bargained. The speaker shouldn’t dictate what local residents do in their schools. We are a purple state, not a red or a blue state.”
Here to discuss what this case means for Illinois are Pat Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center, a non-profit legal intitiative of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute who says workers shouldn’t pay union dues; and Dan Montgomery, president and CEO of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, who supports paying union dues.
Below, some highlights from our conversation.
"The law in the United States has been for decades that, if you don't want to join the union, you still have to pay some fee to the union, because you benefit from the union's work: they negotiate contracts, they do professional development," said Dan Montgomery.
"It's a violation of the First Amendment's rights to free association and freedom of speech," argued Pat Hughes. "If a public worker doesn't want to pay dues to a union, he shouldn't be forced to, because you're being forced to associate with a group you don't want to associate with. Secondly, the money that's being spent is ostensibly money that's going to political speech. That's why it's in front of the Supreme Court today, because it's a violation of the First Amendment on both of those prongs."
"Well, it isn't a violation of the First Amendment," countered Montgomery. "The Supreme Court has said this consistently for decades – even conservative justices. This is about voice and fairness.
"In the public sector – teachers, first responders, nurses, firefighters, people plowing the roads right now – this is their avenue. When they come together as a union, it's their avenue to advocate for the institutions they work in, the communities they serve, their own economic well-being. It's only fair that when they do that – and those benefits accrue to everybody in that workplace and the union, by law, has to represent everybody in that workplace – that everybody pays some fee for it, even if they don't want to be in the union. They don't pay for the political speech. All they pay for is the work of the union and representation."
"Everything that a public-sector union does, in relationship to collective bargaining and everything else that they do, is political in nature," said Hughes. "Every time they're lobbying for a contract – that's lobbying for certain funds to be spent on that contract.
"You can't segregate political and non-political activity from the union. So every dollar that's being spent on union dues – whether you're a member or not – these "fair share" fees are political speech against the will of the person. If everything Dan just said about unions is true, then people would voluntarily participate in the unions. But if they don't want to affiliate, if they don't want to associate, if they want to negotiate a deal on their own behalf, they should be allowed to do that. And that's what the First Amendment says. That's what I think the Supreme Court is going to rule after today's oral arguments. I think that's how it should be."
Watch the video to hear our full discussion.
Related "Chicago Tonight" stories:
Gov. Bruce Rauner stepped up the attack on public employee unions with an executive order allowing members to opt out and not pay union dues if they so choose.
The governor’s executive order absolving state workers who don't want to be union members from paying "fair share" fees could be the first step toward Illinois becoming a so-called "right-to-work state."