SCOTUS splits, so forced union dues stand

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In an unsatisfyingly inconclusive decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has let stand a so-called “forced union dues rule.”

Unions and employee groups around the country celebrated the “decision” while employers, including many long-term care providers, began to worry more seriously about its implications.

The nation's highest court split 4-4 on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which effectively left alone rules requiring some California teachers to pay fees to unions, even if they're not members.

Similar rules are currently in place in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

Many experts forecasted that the rules would ultimately be overturned, but the outcome was thrust into doubt in February after Justice Antonin Scalia's death left a vacancy on the court.

Labor officials said overturning the 38-year legal precedent could weaken unions' power, threaten membership and deplete union funds. The fees collected through the rule are typically put toward collective bargaining, which proponents of the rule say benefits all employees.

The dues rule's opponents argue that the mandate to pay dues violates their First Amendment Rights. 

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, which brought the case on behalf of the teachers, said in a press release that the case was “too significant” to settle for a split vote. Pell said the group plans to file a petition for a re-hearing.

“A union cannot claim to represent the interest of all workers if there is ongoing doubt about the constitutionality of its forcible collection of millions of dollars in dues,” Pell said. 

“Either compulsory dues are an acceptable exception to the First Amendment or they are not,” he added. “A full court needs to decide this question and we expect this case will be reheard when a new justice is confirmed.”