WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – An amicus brief filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argues public employees should have to pay union fees even if they fell that it contributes to political pandering.
Commenting on U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, an Illinois lawsuit regarding non-union public employees mandated to pay collective bargaining fees, Becerra asked in a Jan. 19 friend-of-the- court brief if Abood v. Detroit Board of Education from 1977 should be overruled regarding the controversial union fee argument.
“As contemplated by Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, California also relies on mandatory ‘agency fees’ as an integral part of its collective bargaining system,” Becerra wrote.
According to the attorney general, overruling Abood would detrimentally affect California’s process of managing the public workforce.
Janus feels differently based on his First Amendment rights, arguing these fees require private citizens to endorse political or idealogical messages.
Becerra says overruling Abood could cause immediate complications in 20 of the state's 21 collective bargaining agreements.
In Becerra’s argument, the attorney general details at length California’s collective bargaining history dating back to 1970 when 30 strikes caused 36,000 public employees to miss 385,000 days of work and caused statewide unrest, but eventually union formation created peace.
“Bargaining provides public employers with the opportunity to communicate their needs and objectives to a single representative, and to secure that representative’s acceptance of new policies,” Becerra wrote in the brief, adding,
“The state’s goals in constructing its collective bargaining system can be achieved only through a bargaining ‘forum’ with very particular characteristics.”
These fees and forums have nothing to do with political pandering, according to the attorney general, arguing that agency fees support specialized activities that are not analogous to general lobbying or political advocacy.
“Petitioner’s central thesis is that mandatory agency fees for collective bargaining and contract administration are no different from compelled subsidies for unions’ private political and ideological activities: a government effort to coerce citizens to affirm beliefs and utter messages they find offensive,” Becerra wrote.
He detailed the distinctive features of fair back-and-forth collective bargaining “cannot reasonably be compared to lobbying or other forms of non-bargaining political advocacy,” and the brief further notes, “in bargaining it is understood that union representatives are expressing a set of collective positions on behalf of the employee group—not the personal views of any individual employee.”
Becerra said if Abood were overruled, California would have then have to adjust payroll deductions for a massive state-employee workforce while simultaneously have to assume new discussions with each of the state's 21 collective bargaining units.
“None of these burdens on public employers can be justified by the First Amendment interests that petitioner invokes,” Becerra wrote. “Agency fees do not require anyone to endorse ideological messages with which they disagree or to associate themselves with positions expressed in collective bargaining by the union they have declined to join.”