On June 30, 2015, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the California Teachers Association's ability to collect fair share fees from non-members who benefit from CTA contracts.
Fair share fees, also called agency fees, are fees paid by employees who benefit from a union contract, but opt out of full membership. Many unions, particularly in public safety, have voluntary membership rates above 99%. But other unions have lower voluntary member rates for a variety of reasons and rely on fair share fees to finance contract negotiations and other core union activities.
Courts have long considered fair share fees constitutional in the public sector since the Supreme Court's 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Ed., 431 U.S.209, 232. But courts require unions who collect them to divide their core labor activities from other other activities and assess a fair share fee that only covers the cost of core activities. In California, these rules are part of PERB's regulations. They require unions to give non-members written notice about agency fees and, depending on their size, prepare audited financial statements. In this way, the courts balance the rights of non-members with the needs of the unions that provide critical services.
But the Supreme Court indicated recently it may change that balance and let non-members free ride on union benefits. Last year, in Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court held the First Amendment prohibited fair share fees from some types of organized workers. In the opinion, the Court disparaged fair share fees and invited another challenge. But that case involved home health care workers who did not have a traditional union-member relationship and did not apply to other types of employees. Now, the Court will hear a direct challenge to fair share fee requirements under California's regulatory scheme in its October term.