Dead man makes a difference

I’m talking about Antonin Scalia, who passed away a few weeks ago. Had he still been on the Supreme Court the outcome of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association would have been different, a ruling that would have denied the teachers union the ability to collect dues from non-members who nevertheless receive the protection and bargaining services the union provides members. The court vote was a tie, 4-4. Scalia would surely have sided with the conservatives, jeopardizing the existence of all public unions, if not eventually even private-sector labor organizations. As the New York Times explains:

Under California law, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a “fair share service fee,” also known as an “agency fee,” typically equivalent to members’ dues. The fees, the law says, are meant to pay for collective bargaining activities, including “the cost of lobbying activities.” More than 20 states have similar laws.

Government workers who are not members of unions have long been able to obtain refunds for the political activities of unions, like campaign spending. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, asked whether such workers must continue to pay for any union activities, including negotiating for better wages and benefits. A majority of the justices seemed inclined to say no.

Had the court decided in the plaintiffs’ favor, it would have upended its own 1977 ruling with essentially the same issues at play. Nothing to do with politics, of course, though we can bet that the Koch brothers were involved directly or indirectly in the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian group that spearheaded the case.

This case also underscores the importance of who replaces Obama in the White House. If it’s any of the Republicans, and if the GOP maintains control of the Senate, then a Scalia-like appointment would deliver a court whose decisions would further erode the power of unions.