The Supreme Court to Hear a Case with Implications for Economic Inequality

On Monday, SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States) will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. CTA. The overview and issues below come from a January 8, 2016 report, SCOTUS v. the American Worker: The Upcoming Supreme Court Case that Could Explode Inequality.”


The case, Friedrichs v. CTA, is ostensibly about one teacher’s right to not join her teachers union, but that choice is already available to any worker everywhere in America. This case is really just another attack on workers’ ability to join together and make their voices heard.

The case originated with Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher in Orange County, California. Friedrichs, and the other plaintiffs, want the court to overturn the decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 Supreme Court decision that allows unions to collect fair-share or agency fees from all employees to cover the costs of negotiating wages, benefits and working conditions that benefit all union members and non-members alike.

The true force behind the case is the Center for Individual Rights, a group that has driven it on a frenzied course through the legal system since filing suit in the district court in April 2013. The group, funded by the Koch brothers and others determined to continue manipulating the rules of our economy — and our democracy — fast-tracked the case through the district and 9th circuit courts to bring it to Chief Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on Monday.


Corporate CEOs know that the ability to come together and speak in one voice is workers’ best tool to advocate for economic justice and workplace fairness. After launching successful efforts to push extreme anti-union policies through state legislatures, big money conservatives are using the courts to come after workers’ right to join together.

Those are not the people we want writing the rules of our workplaces. Those are not the people we want dictating the workplace rights of our teachers, nurses, social workers and librarians. Political and economic inequality is bad enough in our country without American workers losing crucial tools that allow them to stand up for themselves and their communities.

The groups pushing this case claim that unions force members to contribute to political candidates or causes they don’t support and that this case will help guard against that. That’s untrue on multiple levels. First, it’s already illegal to force any worker to contribute to union political spending. Second, that type of political spending is not even at issue in this case.

The fees at issue here don’t pay for any kind of political activity. These fees support the employee bargaining that helps create the safe and secure workplace conditions people deserve. Those conditions benefit everyone working in an office or factory or fire station, not just the union members.


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