WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court left little doubt Monday where it stands on forcing teachers and government workers to contribute to public employee unions against their will: It's ready to strike the requirement down.
The court's more conservative justices sharply criticized the current system in which public employees in 23 states and the District of Columbia must pay for the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions' demands. The problem, those justices said, is that virtually everything the unions do affects public policy and tax dollars.
"Everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition," said
Antonin Scalia, seen as the lone conservative who might side with the
unions because of past statements.
When lawyers for California and its teachers union cited more mundane collective bargaining issues such as mileage rates and public safety, Chief Justice John Roberts objected. "It's all money," Roberts said. "The amount of money that's going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that's always a public policy issue."
Their comments and others from justices who previously have criticized the practice of compelling union fees made it clear that the court is likely to strike down its nearly 40-year-old precedent allowing unions to impose such requirements on non-members. That would make it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks.
The ruling, expected by late June, will come in the middle of an election year in which unions are overwhelmingly aligned with the
Party. It could elevate bread-and-butter issues such as the
minimum wage and income inequality on the political agenda, which has been
dominated lately by the threats of international terrorism, illegal immigration
and guns. And it could energize the Democrats' union base, as Supreme Court
defeats often do.
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