What is a “fair share”? The Supreme Court is now hearing a case about whether “fair share” or “agency fees” should be continued under a 1977 Supreme Court ruling upholding mandatory fees for non-union members as constitutional.
The court said they were justified by the state’s interest in maintaining labor peace and eliminating “free riders” who gain benefits without paying their “fair share.”
The idea is that if you chose not to join the union, but you reap the benefits covered by the contract — wages, leave policies, grievance procedures, etc. — then you should bear some of the cost of negotiating that contract.
I tend to think of this in terms of collective goods, say schools, roads, or national parks, that we all use, benefit from, or have access to whether we choose to use them or not.
In the case of public employees, say police, firefighters, teachers or health care workers, if a majority of them at a given site vote to be represented by a union, that union becomes the exclusive bargaining agent for the workers.
Since unions can and are political in their advocating of member benefits, what if you don’t agree with the union’s politics? Well, unions are required to send all non-members a one-page form allowing them to check a box and automatically be exempt from sharing the expense of the union’s lobbying and ideological activities. So maybe the “free riders” are now taking advantage of what appears to be a more conservative Supreme Court with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch.
But consider that even while conservative justices like John Roberts say it’s a ‘money’ issue, and that the unions speaking on behalf of members might limit free speech, I have to laugh thinking of how the Citizens United case gave corporations, with their virtually unlimited pots of money, the same free speech rights as individual citizens.
Granted, labor unions represent a meager 6-7 percent in the private sector, but in the public sector, it’s closer to 30-plus percent.
Take a moment to consider that in the U.S., the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent (that’s .01 percent) of the population owns as much as the other 90 percent of the American population. And according to the AFL-CIO (a labor union), corporate CEO pay in 2016 averaged $13.1 million.
So why is the Supreme Court possibly going to cut union support by letting the “free riders” not pay for collective bargaining? Because, as court justice Roberts says, “It’s all about money.”