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Supreme Court Deadlocks On Challenge To Union Fees

People rally at the Supreme Court in Washington in January, as the court heard arguments in <em>Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association</em>.
Jacquelyn Martin
People rally at the Supreme Court in Washington in January, as the court heard arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

The U.S. Supreme Court has deadlocked on a 4-4 vote in a major labor case. The court, without further comment, announced the tie vote Tuesday. The result is that union opponents have failed, for now, to reverse a long-standing decision that allows states to mandate "fair share" fees from nonunion workers.

The tie vote is the second since Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a vacant seat on the court. It is certain to give further ammunition to Democrats seeking to break the GOP Senate blockade of President Obama's nominee to fill the open seat. Within moments of Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced there would be no hearing or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the election, and since then, he has also ruled out a vote until a new president is sworn in.

The deadlock is also likely to energize union members and union opponents in the upcoming national elections.

The Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was brought by union opponents in California, where 325,000 teachers throughout the state are unionized across 1,000 school districts.

Just 9 percent of the teachers in those districts have chosen not to join the union, but because the union contract must, by law, also cover them, they are required to pay an amount that covers the cost of negotiating the bread-and-butter benefits they reap from the contract: wages, leave policies, grievance procedures.

Although nonmembers do not have to pay for union lobbying or political activities, some of them went to court to challenge the fair-share fees.
They contend the fees amount to an unconstitutional subsidy that violates their right of free speech and association.

The tie means that the court's 1977 decision upholding such fair-share fees remains intact for now, and a future challenge to the precedent will have to take place before a full nine-justice court.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.