Tag Archives: Abood v. Detroit Board of Education

The Survival of Abood v. Board of Education, Part 4

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, March 8, 2018

Just last week on February 26th, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case in the Court’s 2017 term with a potential of adversely impacting the viability and influence of public sector unions.  The case, originating in the seventh circuit with Judge Richard Posner, involves an appeal over the dismissal of a complaint that sought to invalidate agency fees and to reverse the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

gavelJanus is the latest case to reach the Supreme Court challenging the 40 year precedent set in Abood which established that agency fees or “fair share” provisions in public sector union contracts could be imposed on non-union members for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”  Supporters maintain that agency fees are necessary to prevent “free riders” from benefitting from contracts negotiated by unions without bearing the expense of representation. Critics argue that such fees are tantamount to “compelled speech” that violate First Amendment rights.

Back in 2014, the Supreme Court reviewed agency fees in Harris v. Quinn  and held that home health care workers in Illinois could not be compelled to financially support a union they did not want to join. The Harris ruling, however, was narrow because the home health care workers were not deemed “full-fledged public employees.” In 2015, it was expected that the Court’s conservative majority would overrule Abood in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a ninth circuit case that upheld agency fees so long as dues were not used for other ideological or political purposes. However, the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia shortly after arguments resulted in a “no-decision” and the judgment of the ninth circuit was “affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

The tenor of arguments in Janus last week leaves no doubt that the eight justices who heard Friedrichs remain “equally divided.” As was the case in Friedrichs, Justice Elena Kagan continued to voice concerns that overruling Abood would adversely impact 23 state statutes that permit agency fees and would invalidate thousands of contracts covering millions of workers. Justice Anthony Kennedy, on the other side, forced David Frederick, AFSCME’s attorney, to acknowledge that unions would have less political influence if Abood were to be overruled, and then quipped “isn’t that the end of this case?”  Justice Stephen Breyer, interested in maintaining the status quo, suggested a compromise, namely a statutory-duties test that would draw a line between chargeable (collective bargaining, contract administration) and non-chargeable (lobbying, politicking) expenses. Attorney William Messenger arguing for Janus, however, skeptically noted such a test would allow “the government to decide what is constitutionally chargeable [which would include] collective bargaining” and that such is “the core of political activity which individuals cannot be compelled to support” under the First Amendment.

It is clear that the decision in Janus hinges on Justice Neil Gorsuch, who many anticipate will cast a vote to finally reverse Abood.  Somewhat uncharacteristically yet purposefully, Justice Gorsuch remained silent during arguments.  A decision is expected in June.

Check out our previous articles on Abood and the challenges to public sector agency fees:

Part One: Will Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Survive?

Part Two: Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Survives…for now?

Part 3: The Survival of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, Part 3

Update: Janus Files Petition for Appeal to the Supreme Court Seeking to Overrule Abood

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, June 14, 2017

As previously reported on March 29th, the fight against the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education continues. On June 6, 2017, Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who is required to pay agency fees to AFSCME Council 31 pursuant to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking review of a seventh circuit decision that affirmed the dismissal of his complaint. The petition poses the following question to the Supreme Court:  should Abood be overruled and public sector agency fee arrangements declared unconstitutional under the First Amendment?

The State of Illinois and AFSCME have 30 days to file their response to Janus’ petition for review. The Supreme Court is expected to consider the petition in late September, when the Justices return from their summer recess. If review is granted, the case would likely be argued in early 2018, with a decision due approximately a year from now.

The Survival of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, Part 3

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, March 29, 2017

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Gavel and scales of justice

Exactly a year ago today in what now appears to be a temporary reprieve, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  An “equally divided court” affirmed the judgment of the 9th Circuit that “fair share” or “agency” fee provisions in public sector contracts were valid.  Up to that time, observers had anticipated that the Supreme Court would use Friedrichs to overturn its 1977 opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held agency fees were deemed proper if exacted for “collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment” but not for “ideological or political purposes.”  However, with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court could not muster a majority and the status quo remained.

Fast forward to March 2017, and following Donald Trump’s victory in the race for the White House, we find ourselves in the middle of confirmation hearings to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with President Trump’s choice, Judge Neil Gorsuch, a conservative appellate judge from the 10th Circuit who, most would agree, will likely tip the scales in favor of overturning Abood.

Indeed, new cases are making their way through the system in an effort to put the fair share question back on the Supreme Court’s docket.  Just last week, the 7th Circuit affirmed a dismissal of a complaint in Janus v. AFSCME where Judge Posner noted that neither the 7th Circuit nor the district court can overrule the Abood decision.  Janus, which began as Rauner v. AFSCME, was first filed by Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner shortly after his election. Northern Illinois District Judge Robert Gettleman dismissed Governor Rauner’s complaint noting that Rauner had “no personal interest at stake” as he was “not subject to the fair share fees requirement.”  To keep the lawsuit moving forward, and with the backing of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center, Mark Janus and fellow state employee Brian Trygg intervened in the case.

In February 2017, Ryan Yohn and a number of his fellow teachers filed a case in the Central District of California against the California Teachers Association following the Friedrichs blueprint and seeking to enjoin Defendants from requiring nonunion employees to pay agency fees.  And, in the Western District of Kentucky, a class action filed by teachers working for Jefferson County Public School Board of Education where plaintiffs allege that requiring union nonmembers to pay a “fair share” fee is unconstitutional is currently pending and moving forward.

As noted by Justice Elena Kagan during the Friedrichs oral arguments in early 2016, overruling Abood will impact “tens of thousands of contracts with [agency fee] provisions…affect[ing] millions of employees” across the country.  Clearly, we have not heard the last word on this issue and it will most certainly make its way up to the Supreme Court.  Stay tuned!

Check out our previous articles on Abood and the challenges to public sector agency fees:

Part One: Will Abood V. Detroit Board of Education Survive?

Part Two: Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Survives…for now?

Abood v. Detroit Board Of Education Survives…for now?

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo

Back in November of last year, I wrote about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, “one of five cases to watch” during the Supreme Court’s 2015 term according to Washington’s The Hill newspaper.

At the beginning of the term, many observers had anticipated that the Court’s conservative majority would use Friedrichs to overturn its 1977 opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a case which upheld “fair share” provisions in public sector union contracts as dues properly exacted for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes” so long as their dues were not used for other ideological or political purposes. However, the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia caused Friedrichs to limp to the finish line without a winner even being declared. On Tuesday March 29th, the Court issued a one sentence decision that the judgment of the 9th Circuit was “affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Gavel2During oral arguments on January 11th, Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether Abood was even workable, and challenged California Solicitor General Edward Dumont to draw a line between legitimate contract administration fees and lobbying fees, specifically pointing to Section 3546(b) of the California Government Code which provides that agency fees may be used for “the cost of lobbying activities designed to secure advantages in wages, hours, and other conditions of employment, in addition to those secured through meeting and negotiating with the employer.” On the other side of the argument, Justice Elena Kagan focused on the issue of overruling long-standing precedent that would impact “tens of thousands of contracts with [agency fee] provisions…affect[ing] millions of employees.” The path seemed cleared for a 5-4 decision in favor of striking down the fair share fees and overturning Abood until February 13th when news broke out that Justice Scalia had died while on a hunting trip in Texas.

Had the Supreme Court overturned Abood, it would have had a profound impact across the country’s twenty five states that permit compulsory “fair share” for teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers. Certainly, the decision is a reprieve for unions. The parties can petition for a rehearing. Pursuant to the Court’s rules, such a petition would have to be approved by 5 Justices, which is highly unlikely in light of the 4-4 vote in the decision. As a result, a new case may have to be filed and processed through the lower courts. Assuming the Republicans stay firm on their position to block Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, this constitutional question will not be resolved until after the 2016 Presidential election and will rest squarely on the shoulders of the new Justice that is ultimately appointed and confirmed.

 

 

Will Abood v. Detroit Board Of Education Survive?

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo

In June 2014, the Supreme Court issued a decision impacting “fair share” provisions in public sector collective bargaining agreements. By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers in Illinois could not be compelled to financially support a union they did not want to join. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the “primary purpose of permitting unions to collect fees is to ‘prevent nonmembers from free-riding on the unions’ efforts, sharing the employment benefits obtained by the union’s collective bargaining without sharing the costs incurred.” The Harris ruling, however, was narrow insofar as the home health care workers at issue were not deemed “full-fledged public employees.”

Now comes Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association¸ one of five cases to watch in the Court’s 2015 term according to Washington’s The Hill newspaper. In Friedrichs, the issue is whether public employees may be compelled to pay union dues as a condition of their employment. The case stems from a California law that allows school districts to require public school teachers, as a condition of employment, to either join the union or opt out. The teachers are nevertheless required to still pay a portion of the union dues.

HandshakeBWMany observers anticipate that the court’s conservative majority will overturn its 1977 opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld “fair share” provisions in union contracts where a group of public school teachers in Detroit had sought to overturn the requirement that they pay fees equivalent to union dues on the grounds that they opposed public sector collective bargaining and objected to the union’s ideological activities of the union. The court, nevertheless, found that non-union members could be charged dues for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes” so long as their dues were not used for other ideological or political purposes. In Harris, Justice Samuel Alito questioned the Abood court and its understanding of precedent. He was also critical of the court’s failure to appreciate the conceptual difficulty of distinguishing what are chargeable versus non-chargeable union expenditures in the public sector. Finally, Justice Alito criticized the Abood court’s analysis as resting on “an unsupported [unwarranted] empirical assumption, namely, that the principle of exclusive representation in the public sector is dependent on a union or agency shop.”

Writing for the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan noted that the “Abood rule is deeply entrenched, and is the foundation for not tens or hundreds, but thousands of contracts between unions and governments across the nation. Our precedent about precedent, fairly understood and applied, makes it impossible for this court to reverse that decision.”

If the Supreme Court does overturn Abood, such a decision will have a profound impact, across the Country’s twenty five states that permit compulsory “fair share” for teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers as unions will not flourish if they cannot compel non-members to contribute toward their efforts. Friedrichs truly is a case to watch.