Supreme Court to hear case on worker freedom for public employees nationwide
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Friedrichs case shows Gov. Bruce Rauner may have been more forward-thinking than many of his opponents imagined.
In what could serve as a vindication for Gov. Bruce Rauner, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 30 announced it will take a case that could potentially grant Right to Work to public employees across the county.
Currently, in Illinois and other non-Right-to-Work states, unions can get workers fired for not paying them. These workers can still choose to opt out of union membership, but are forced to pay the union the vast majority of their dues through what are commonly called “agency fees.”
In ruling on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al., the Supreme Court could decide that making public employees pay “agency fees” is an illegal violation of the First Amendment.
The 10 California teachers who brought the case argue that public-sector collective bargaining is inherently political. All bargaining by government unions is by its nature a political action dealing with public employers, and almost all gains won at the negotiating table involve taxpayer money.
Because of this, public employees supporting government unions against their will forces them to subsidize the political speech and actions of these private organizations. The compelled speech is a violation of the First Amendment and unconstitutional.
“Rauner’s executive order quotes Harris v. Quinn, where the Supreme Court recognized a ‘bedrock principle’ in that ‘no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support,’ because ‘compelled funding of the speech of other private speakers or groups presents the same dangers as compelled speech …’
“In Friedrichs, the Center for Individual Rights, or CIR, is representing 10 California teachers. CIR petitioned the Supreme Court in January to ask ‘the Court to take the case and rule that the compulsory union dues laws now in effect in twenty-six states unconstitutionally force individuals to subsidize union positions with which they may fundamentally disagree …’”
“According to CIR, ‘The suit claims state agency-shop laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, violate well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association. While many teachers support the union, others do not and the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees.’”
Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, is representing state workers who seek to exercise their rights in Illinois. He describes the current legal status of Rauner’s order as follows: “In May, the federal trial court dismissed Rauner from the lawsuit because he has never personally been forced to pay union fees. But it also ruled that the case could go forward with our clients, three Illinois state workers who have been forced to pay fees to government unions for years.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision to take the Friedrichs case strongly signals that the court is finally ready to protect the First Amendment rights of government workers like our clients,” Huebert said.
The fact that the Supreme Court agreed to take the Friedrichs case shows that Rauner’s executive order may have been more forward-thinking than many of his opponents imagined.
If the court decides the case in favor of the teachers, the governor will be proven correct. But more importantly, the public employees of Illinois and around the country will finally have the freedom to choose whether or not to support a union. Employees who choose to exercise their rights will be freed from supporting a political organization with which they do not agree.