A.G. Schneiderman and A.G. Jepsen Announce Multistate Coalition Urging U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Workers’ Organizing Rights in Key Labor Case

Joined By 20 States And The District Of Columbia, New York’s Friend-Of-The-Court Brief Urges Court To Follow Settled Precedent That Empowers States To Manage Labor Relations As They Deem Appropriate

Schneiderman: The Right To Organize Is A Fundamental American Right. The Supreme Court Should Honor And Protect That Right.

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that he is leading a coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a Ninth Circuit decision protecting “agency shop” and “fair share” provisions in public sector collective bargaining agreements.

The brief addresses Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, a critical case to be heard during this Court term that seeks to undermine settled precedent that states have relied upon for decades to set up their labor contracts and ensure labor peace and efficient provision of government services.

Schneiderman, who was joined at a press conference Sunday on the steps of City Hall by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, said the Supreme Court should defer to California’s judgment that California public-school teachers who are covered by an exclusive-representation collective bargaining arrangement may be charged a fee to cover their fair share of the costs of collective bargaining.

“The right to organize is a fundamental right for American workers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Unions go hand-in-hand with a strong middle class. Organizing gives workers the power to lift themselves out of poverty and build a better future. The Supreme Court should follow settled precedent and allow states like New York to manage our own labor relations to achieve labor peace and government efficiency and to continue our long tradition of support for workers.”

"There is nothing remotely fair about dismantling  fair-share arrangements  in public sector union contracts,"Attorney General Jepsen said. "Unions are obligated to expend resources to ‎represent all workers, members and nonmembers alike, and all workers benefit from the important protections unions secure through collective bargaining. Strong public sector unions are and should remain important partners in ensuring effective government for citizens. The Supreme Court should respect the states' rights to structure their labor relations as they see fit, and avoid needlessly disrupting long settled practices and the agreements they have produced."

The provisions allow a union that a majority of covered employees select to serve as their exclusive-collective-bargaining representative to collect an agency fee from all represented employees, solely to cover the costs of the union’s collective-bargaining related activities. Such fees do not support any political activities which the union may engage in. In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), the Supreme Court held that states may constitutionally mandate such payments as part of a system of exclusive collective bargaining representation, in light of the important government interests in achieving labor peace and the expenses involved in maintaining the staff expertise necessary to perform collective-bargaining functions.

Disagreeing with Abood’s analysis, the plaintiffs contend that public sector “agency shop” and “fair share” provisions violate the First Amendment. The district court entered judgment in favor of defendants on the pleadings and Ninth Circuit summarily affirmed, holding that Abood bars the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court then granted plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari. 

New York and the other states are supporting the State of California. Their brief argues that public sector “agency shop” and “fair share” provisions are consistent with the First Amendment, and that overruling Abood’s approval of those provisions would disrupt thousands of labor agreements that States have adopted and maintained for decades in reliance on Abood.

All States have a common interest in defending Abood’s deference to state policy determinations, and in preserving the ability of states to adopt the same tested models of collective bargaining that Congress has permitted for private-sector employees. 

“New York stands with its unions and the working- and middle-class families that unions protect,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Unions have been key in the fight against inequality, and their role remains vital today when workers’ rights are increasingly under attack. New York City is proud to join a broad coalition of civic leaders urging the Supreme Court to respect historic union rights.”

"The corporate CEOs behind Friedrichs want nothing more than to silence working people and break the scales which are already tilted in their favor,” saidMario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO.   “They know when working people join together, they have the power to improve their wages, benefits and working conditions and that scares them deeply.  We thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for having the courage to stand up to very powerful interests on behalf of working men and women, and for understanding and appreciating the important role unions play in providing a voice for workers."

“This case is about a small group of people who are determined to destroy the middle class in this country because they know that they can amass more wealth for themselves,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “Labor unions are a target because it is organized labor that has been willing to stand up to them.”

"Collective bargaining is a fundamental right. I join Attorney General Schneiderman in supporting this right, and standing up for collective bargaining,” saidPublic Advocate Letitia James. “We stand in solidarity with workers in California and across the country. By supporting our unions, we are supporting a stronger economy with good jobs and fair wages."

State Senator Brad Hoylman said, "New York has a long and proud tradition of public sector unionism, a heritage threatened by the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case before the Supreme Court. Fair-share fees ensure that our unions are equipped with the resources to bargain for better pay and working conditions for all workers, union members and non-union members alike. I am grateful that Attorney General Schneiderman has taken the lead in organizing New Yorkers and Attorneys General around the country to fight for the future of public sector union rights."

“I am proud to join Attorney General Schneiderman in the call to protect worker’s rights and urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the rights of unions to collectively bargain with management,” saidCongressman Jerrold Nadler.  “Our laws have long established the role states have in managing labor relations in order to protect workers from unfair management practices and ensure labor peace and efficient provision of government services.  Unions must be able to mount a strong united defense against big business and large employers who spend too much time worrying about profits and not enough time worrying about the treatment of hardworking people. If unions are handcuffed in their ability to protect their membership, it ends up hurting all American workers who depend on unions to represent their voice and their interests at the negotiating table.”

“Unions have been absolutely essential in establishing the great American middle class, increasing wages and improving the quality of life for generations of Americans,” saidCongresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “Attorney General Schneiderman and the colleagues he is organizing are absolutely right to weigh in here on behalf of public employees and their unions. I’m proud he is on the front lines, defending good jobs and values that strengthen our communities.”

“The Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation is proud to see that New York's people's attorney, our own Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has joined those of us in the labor movement in speaking out against a possible Supreme Court decision in the Friedrich's case that may make every state in the Union a ‘right to work state’ where unions would be required to represent all if its members despite NOT requiring them to pay dues for such services!” saidPaul Ellis-Graham, President of Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation.  “The precedent of having union members pay dues so that the union can do the most for them is a long-standing practice which conservatives want to undermine so that they can weaken unions, line their own pockets, and give their employees less.   We are deeply appreciative of Eric's support on this critical issue.”

“Unions are the backbone of New York City: our organized labor offers workers protections that are unheard of in states that lack strong unions and New Yorkers will not support any law that restricts their right to organize,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “All hard-working employees deserve to make enough to support their families and at a time when wages are already too low, we must fight to not only keep the current protections for our workers, but to add stronger protections. The misleadingly titled ‘Right-to-work law’ has destroyed workers’ rights in other states where it has passed, and so New Yorkers will make sure that this devastating law stays out of our state.”

Attorney General Schneiderman’s brief is joined by 21 other states: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

The brief was prepared by New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Anisha Dasgupta , and Assistant Solicitor General Valerie Figueredo.

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to protecting workers legal rights. To file a complaint, please contact the Office’s Labor Bureau at212-416-8700 or visit www.ag.ny.gov/labor/complaint-form.

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