U.S. News

Factbox: Supreme Court teacher union case revisits 1977 precedent

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will consider whether workers who are not members of public sector unions can be forced to pay fees that finance collective bargaining. The case involving a California teachers union could reduce the influence of organized labor.

Most California public school teachers are members of the union but some elect not to join. State law requires even non-members to pay fees equivalent to union dues.

Here is a look at some related Supreme Court cases, starting with the 1977 labor law precedent that the present justices potentially could overturn.

Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977)

In a case brought by a Detroit public school teacher who objected to a teachers union’s political activities, the court held that non-members of public sector unions could be required to pay fees to unions as long as the funds go toward collective bargaining and not political activities. The court was unanimous in agreeing that non-members should not be required to pay for political activities because it would violate their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, although the justices splintered on how the ruling should be implemented.

Knox v. Service Employees Union International (2012)

In a 7-2 ruling, the court decided that a public sector union could not increase the fees required of non-members in the middle of the union-dues year without their consent. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s majority, said the Abood decision and subsequent rulings “have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of non-members” of public unions.

Harris v. Quinn (2014)

The court declined to extend the Abood precedent to Illinois home-healthcare workers. The 5-4 ruling stated that state-paid, in-home care workers cannot be compelled to pay union dues, even for collective bargaining. Writing on behalf of the court majority, Alito again criticized the 1977 Abood decision. But the ruling stopped short of blocking organized labor from collecting such fees from other non-union public employees.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (to be argued on Monday)

In the case now before the justices, the court has been asked to overturn the Abood decision. The case was brought by teachers, this time in California, who objected to paying the union for collective bargaining activities. They were not members of the union and already had opted out of paying toward its spending on political activities. A ruling is due by the end of June.

Compiled by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham