A Bad Day for Unions

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case that may cripple the rights of public sector unions to bargain for workers. The case has the backing of the right wing group backed, the Bradley Foundation, that is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. The group has spent millions over the last 30 years to destroy unions. needless to say the day did not go well for unions:

Public sector unions just had a simply terrible day in the Supreme Court on Monday. Justice Antonin Scalia, the justice who seemed most inclined to agree with them prior to oral argument, took a hard turn against them within just a few minutes of argument. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is normally this closest thing this Court has to a swing voter, appeared to grow increasingly angry with the unions as the argument proceeded. Plus the Supreme Court has already dropped two big hints that it’s ready to cut of a major source of funding for public sector unions. Oral arguments cannot always predict the outcome of the case — just ask the millions of Americans who are now insured because of Obamacare — but if they offer any predictive value, a lot of unions are very frightened right now.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association involves what are alternatively referred to as “agency fees” or “fair share fees,” which unions charge non-members to recoup the cost of services performed for those non-members. [..]

Before Monday’s argument, unions had some hope that conservative Justice Scalia might cross over and give them the fifth vote they need to preserve agency fee agreements (all four of the Court’s more liberal members appeared all but certain to vote to uphold such agreements). During oral arguments on the Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn, a closely related case that expressed deep skepticism of agency fees, Scalia asked some questions which suggested that he was concerned that the legal argument against agency fees goes too far. That Justice Scalia, however, did not show up in Court on Monday. The one that did show up compared agency fee agreements to a law compelling people to subsidize the Republican Party.

Lest there be any doubt, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also appeared firmly against agency fees. At one point, Roberts suggested that any bargaining position taken by a union that would cost the state any money at all is a matter of public concern subject to rigid First Amendment review. Justice Clarence Thomas was, as usual, silent. Although it is very unlikely that the Court’s most conservative member will side with the unions.

That leaves the plaintiffs with what appear to be five clear votes giving them the right to get something for nothing.

This doesn’t look good for unions.