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AAUP Responds to Friedrichs Oral Arguments

AAUP Statement, January 11, 2016

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case which threatens to reverse decades-old decisions allowing for the collection of fair share fees from public employees. The case has far-reaching consequences for American workers, students and the public. Fair share fees fund a range of activities that improve the quality of education and the well being of students as well as educators.

In brief, the case seeks to weaken unions by limiting or eliminating the collection of agency fees. The AAUP supports the right of unions to charge agency fees, also known as "fair share." These fees ensure that nonmembers help pay for the costs of the representation that the union provides to all. Even if bargaining unit members choose not to join as full members, they are represented by the union and benefit from the contract it negotiates. In higher education, strong unions help protect academic freedom and shared governance, limit contingency, and promote economic security for faculty and quality education for students.

For the past forty years, the Supreme Court has endorsed the legality of fair share arrangements, This is now being challenged on the basis that the First Amendment bars this practice, since it compels individuals to pay for "speech" (by the union) with which they may not agree. Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP-Collective Bargaining Congress, said, "The Friedrichs case is an attack on workers' rights to bargain collectively, an attack on workplace democracy, and an attack on the middle class. It is also a call to organize; attempts to divide us will not work."

Rudy Fichtenbaum, AAUP president, said, "In higher education, strong unions not only promote quality education for students and economic security for educators, they protect academic freedom and shared governance. It is only fair for workers to pay their fair share." Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP general counsel, said, "As the AAUP/AFT joint amicus brief explains, collective bargaining, supported by the fair share agency fee system, significantly benefits the educational system. Agency fee arrangements fairly balance the interests of nonmembers with the state's and union's interests in requiring them to pay their fair share of the costs of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that benefits members and nonmembers alike."