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Supreme Court To Rule On Public Employee Unions

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becketfund.org
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The Supreme Court building.

A Supreme Court case currently under consideration has renewed the debate surrounding collective bargaining rights of public employees. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will decide whether mandatory dues to public employee unions constitutes a violation of the First Amendment. 

Christine Cooke, an education policy analyst with the Sutherland Institute, said that public employee bargaining is, in this case, political speech.

“Collective bargaining has been distinguished from political speech in the past. What they’re arguing in this case is that collective bargaining is inherently political speech because you’re talking about public employees,” Cooke said. “They are forced to give their money so that a union can go pursue certain education policies, and that’s considered speech, constitutionally. So, for instance, collective bargaining often results in policies that affect salary or pensions. Most of these come from public funds or the public budget and they affect taxpayers.”

Utah has right-to-work laws when it comes to education, meaning that teachers can opt out of joining a union. Cooke said that this allows teachers in non-right-to-work states some added level of independence in policy advocacy.

“Utah is actually one of the 25 states that has right-to-work protections. It might not have a direct impact on students but it certainly has an indirect impact on students,” she said. “Because teachers with right-to-work protections are free to support or oppose different education legislation that the unions may or may not agree with. Teacher tenure or merit based pay would be two examples of legislation that a teacher could support that would affect students.”

Oral arguments in the case were heard on Monday, January 11.

Correction: oral arguments were heard on January 11, not Friday, January 15.