January 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case Attacking Teachers and Unions

Get critical information about the case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case on Monday, Jan. 11. The case is an attack on long-standing rules that have made it possible for professionals to stand together with one voice at work and in their communities.

CEA President Sheila Cohen said, "The Friedrichs case is about corporate interests that want to undermine employee protections by attacking teachers, nurses, firefighters, and all organized labor—limiting our individual rights and our collective right to organize and succeed."

Cohen continued, "Strong collective bargaining relationships support high-quality public schools, services, and teaching professionals, who should have a say about their futures and the right to negotiate together for better wages and benefits that sustain their families. Everyone should care about Friedrichs because a robust American labor movement is essential to our nation's democracy and economy."

Click here to read Cohen's entire statement.


The Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case centers around the future of fair share fees, sometimes called agency fee. A fair share fee payer is someone who has elected not to be a union member, but who is still fully covered by the union contract and has full access to the rights and benefits provided by that contract.

By law, unions must represent and bargain for every worker, whether or not they join the union. If the Court were to ban fair share, some employees would get benefits for free, while others would pay more than their fair share.

In Connecticut and 23 other fair share states, fee payers are required to pay for those benefits, rather than take a free ride on the contributions and work of others.

Some states have already made fair share fees illegal, and the result is lower wages and reduced benefits.

"The decline of union membership has mirrored almost exactly the decline of the middle class," said Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor. "Strong unions mean a strong middle class, which means a strong economy."

This case symbolizes corporate interests' fight to weaken employees' rights and shift the balance of power further in their favor.

A New York Times editorial says the Supreme Court should be extremely wary of upending long-settled precedent.

Stronger unions have not only helped ensure that essential public services are more efficient and effective; they have also led to higher wages and better benefits for workers. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, public employees in states with fair-share fees enjoy nearly the same compensation as their private-sector counterparts, while those in states that have banned such fees get 9 percent less.

States should continue to be free to fashion their own arrangements for handling labor relations. More than 20 have fair-share fee systems which encompass thousands of negotiated contracts representing millions of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers. All this could be upset by a ruling for the plaintiffs.


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