The California Teacher’s Association won a large victory for unions and organized labor in the United States Supreme Court on May 26, 2016. The justices deadlocked 4-4, which means that lower court’s ruling in the matter stands.
The case involved ten teachers from California and the Christian Educators Association International who jointly sued the California Teacher’s Association (CTA). The CTA is one of the largest and most powerful teachers’ unions in the country.
California is one of 23 states which requires public employees like teachers to pay a mandatory fee to the union even if the employee is not a union member. The state and unions reason that since all teachers benefit from the association’s collective bargaining efforts, then all teachers should pay for these costs.
The teachers argued that this “agency shop” law, which requires teachers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, is unconstitutional. The teachers believe that the rule violates their freedom of speech and freedom of association. Some teachers do not want to join the union because they disagree with unions in general, and others disagree with the CTA’s widespread political activities. Others simply do not believe they should be forced to pay money for an organization that they do not want to join.
The tied decision was expected after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Since the Court only has eight justices, a tie leaves the lower court decision in place but does not decide the issue permanently. The case can still be re-presented to the Supreme Court once a ninth justice is in place.
Many legal observers believed that Justice Scalia would have ruled against the unions. If this were the case, the decision would have caused a major blow to unions across the nation and would have greatly decreased their power. If the decision were overturned, non-union employees would no longer have to contribute to the union’s collective bargaining costs, and the impact would be substantial.
Anti-union activists have vowed to present the case again, and many believe that the issue is important enough that a full panel of justices will agree to re-hear the case. Unless or until that happens, California law still allows unions to charge non-members dues or fees in order to support their activities.