In Supreme Court

CIVIL BEAT; JESSICA TERRE; MARCH 31, 2016

A ruling in favor of the California teacher suing her union could have had major ramifications for organized labor in Hawaii.

Unions leaders in Hawaii are likely breathing a sigh of relief this week after the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked Tuesday on a case that could have had major ramifications for how the unions operate.

The 4-4 vote in Friedrichs V. California Teachers Association, which challenged the ability of unions to collect mandatory dues, means the lower court ruling in favor of the CTA will stand for now.

The New York Times described the ruling as “the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right.”

Anti-union plaintiffs in the case appeared to be headed toward a Supreme Court victory when justices heard arguments in the case in January.

Statements by conservative justices at the time were worrisome enough for some local union leaders to begin bracing for possible changes.

University of Hawaii Professional Assembly Executive Director Kristeen Hanselmanwrote a note to members earlier this year saying the union was “preparing alternative approaches” to maintaining UHPA’s capacity should laws change in Hawaii as a result of the case.

Currently 25 states have “Right to Work” laws that prohibit compulsory union dues. In the other states, including Hawaii, employees in unionized jobs (such as public school teachers) can opt out of paying dues that go toward political activities but not dues that support things like collective bargaining.

Teachers in the Friedrichs case argued that requiring public employees to pay union dues violates the First Amendment. According to the Center for Individual Rights, which represented the anti-union teachers, mandatory dues violate “well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association.” The suit asserts that essentially all union activities, including collective bargaining, are inherently political.

On its website Wednesday, the Hawaii State Teachers Association called the ruling  “a victory for workers’ rights across the USA.”

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