Public Employees Win, Unions Lose

Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute
Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute

By Ralph Kerr

The US Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer, that teachers’ unions and other public-employee labor organizations may no longer collect fees for collective bargaining from workers who decline to join the union overrules a 41 year old precedent that sent shockwaves throughout the labor community.

The justices ruled 5-4 to prohibit “agency” or “fair share” fees from being automatically taken from an employees pay checks without the employees authorizing this deduction. The ruling went even further to require that workers must affirmatively opt into the union before fees can be taken out of their paychecks. The savings for some union members, for not being forced to pay union fees, whether they belonged to the union or not amounts to nearly $600 per year. The court concluded that, “…the arrangement being overturned violates the free speech rights of non-members by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

The decision will significantly dent the treasuries of the teachers unions who have used part of these fees to support political candidates and other initiatives that many teachers would never choose to support, if they had a choice. In fact, in New York State the teachers unions have been the largest contributors to political campaigns for many years. Not surprisingly New York State Governor Cuomo immediately signed an Executive Order which prohibits state entities from disclosing the home addresses, email addresses and phone numbers of public employees to group planning to advise union members of their newly earned right.

The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have approximately 4 million members between them. The NEA latest budget includes a $50 million budget reduction as a result of the court’s decision anticipating a 10 percent loss in membership over the next two years. Some anticipate the loss of membership may rise as high as 20%. Other union groups impacted are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

As a result of this court decision unions in at least 22 states, which had previously authorized union agency fees be deducted from all employees paychecks, must now represent all workers covered by bargaining unit, for collective bargaining and grievances, regardless of whether the workers join the union or not.

The decision will be applauded by many teachers particularly as it will increase their take home pay immediately and the increase will not be at the expense of taxpayers. As we witnessed by strikes and work stoppages in several states throughout our country this spring many teachers continue to be underpaid for the important responsibility they have of teaching the children in their school districts. Not having to pay union fees against their will should be well received by them.

If you are a teacher, have a teacher in your family or know a teacher or other public service union employee impacted by this ruling please pass this news on so they can take advantage of this change in the law if they choose to do so.

If you have questions about this change in union participation and collective bargaining rights we would be happy to respond to them. Please contact us at

Dr. Ralph Kerr is the President of Teaching and Learning Institute. If you would like more information about the Teaching and Learning Institute please contact us at or call us at 585-567-2080.

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