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News from EPI Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association threatens the rights of working people to collectively negotiate

The Supreme Court is set to consider Friedrichs v. California, a case that threatens to lower wages and compensation for public-sector employees by undermining the ability of workers in the public sector to band together and negotiate benefits and protections through a union.

In On Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: The inextricable links between exclusive representation, agency fees, and the duty of fair representation, Jeffrey Keefe, professor emeritus at the School of Labor and Management at Rutgers University, finds that public employees in so-called right-to-work states earn in excess of $1,000 less than their public sector counterparts in fair share states. By banning provisions that allow unions to collect fees from nonmembers that unions are still required to represent, right-to-work states allow “free-riders” to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying their fair share of fees to support the union’s ability to negotiate on their behalf.

“In states where unions cannot collect fair-share fees, the employees they represent earn lower wages and compensation, regardless of whether they are union members or not,” said Keefe. “Public-sector unions exist primarily for collective bargaining, and their capacity to bargain effectively on behalf of public-sector employees is closely linked to their ability to collect fair-share fees and maintain high levels of union membership. Free-riding undermines their ability to fulfill these duties.”

Some researchers claim that there is no link between the collection of fair-share fees and the ability of unions to fulfill their duty of fair representation for all bargaining unit members, regardless of whether they are union members. However, public-union density in right-to-work states is one-third of that in fair-share states and public-employee wages and compensation are substantially lower in right-to-work states and below those of private-sector workers. While in fair-share states the total public compensation penalty (how much less public employees make than their private-sector counterparts) is only 1 percent, this penalty grows to 10 percent in right-to-work states.

The incidence of free-riders is higher in right-to-work states, undermining the ability of unions to finance collective bargaining on behalf of public-sector employees. For example, union membership declined by 7 percent and free-riding more than doubled after Michigan enacted a public-sector right-to-work law and prohibited school districts from collecting union dues by payroll deduction in 2012.