Today the Supreme Court issued a decision in the closely watched case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which keeps mandatory union fees for public employees alive. In a one-sentence opinion, an equally divided Supreme Court simply affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s decision in favor of charging school teachers mandatory union fees. The decision doesn’t apply to compulsory union membership in the private sector.
The Ninth Circuit based its brief decision on the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Abood allows public employers to require all employees – both union and nonunion members – to pay union fees, so long as workers are not forced to pay a portion of the fees that covers political or ideological activities.
Following oral arguments on January 11, 2016, many predicted the Supreme Court would issue a 5-4 opinion against mandatory union fees for public employees, overturning the Abood precedent. Justice Antonin Scalia’s questions appeared to indicate that he sided with the challengers. With Justice Scalia’s passing, however, the justices emerged in a 4-4 deadlock.
The case was a very important one for organized labor. In light of the split decision, it is likely this issue will arise again. This opinion makes clear that the outcome will depend on the new justice.