As Special Interests Attack, 'Bad Day for Organized Labor' at Supreme Court

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As Special Interests Attack, 'Bad Day for Organized Labor' at Supreme Court

Reporting on oral arguments suggests at least four justices are ready to overturn precedent on public sector union fees

Outside the Supreme Court on Monday, public sector union workers argued that strong unions build a stronger middle class. (Photo: AFSCME/Twitter)

Monday's oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case that could strike a devastating blow to public sector unions nationwide, "did not go well for organized labor," Bloomberg reporter Josh Eidelson told MSNBC following the hearing.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) seeks to overturn the legal framework that requires those who are represented by a union to pay dues.

Justice Antonin Scalia has in the past shown skepticism about anti-union arguments like those presented Monday in Friedrichs—prior to the hearing, Eidelson called him "unions' best hope of winning." But when he spoke on Monday, Eidelson explained, it was "generally to say things that would give much more hope to the plaintiffs, to the teachers who don't want to have to pay union fees."

Politico on Monday offered a similar assessment, saying that "four justices appeared skeptical of the court's own holding in the 1977 Abood decision, which ruled the fees constitutional."

"Justices [Samuel] Alito and [Anthony] Kennedy seemed the most hostile to the unions' position," Politico reported, "but there was little indication that [Chief Justice John] Roberts or Scalia supported the unions' side."

As AFSCME, the nation's largest public sector union, has stated: "If the Supreme Court overturns the unanimous 1977 Supreme Court decision called Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which upheld the payment of 'fair share fees' by nonmembers for their share of the cost of their representation, it would mean that every state in the country would be a 'right-to-work' state for all public service employees."

The Washington Post noted that "[l]iberal justices during an hour and a half of oral arguments said the challengers had not supplied the kind of evidence required for the court to overturn a precedent."

However, the paper continued:

[T]he court's conservative majority in 2012 and 2014 expressed grave doubts about the 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and there seemed little reason after the oral arguments for unions to think the majority was not ready to now finish it off.

Justice Antonin Scalia in the past has expressed sympathy for the view that the unions needed to collect the fees to prevent “free riders” — those who benefit from the agreements unions reach with government employers but do not pay for the union’s costs.

But he did not pose any questions Monday that favored the union’s view and said he doubted whether such fees were necessary to union survival.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Outside the court on Monday, both pro- and anti-union activists rallied with signs and chants. Among those putting out the call on the anti-union side were members of what PR Watch last week described as a "massive right-wing funding machine" that includes the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the State Policy Network (SPN), an $84+ million network of state-based "think tanks," funded by the Kochs and others with close interlocking ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

But unions and workers came out to counter the spin.

A decision in the case is expected by late June.

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