As reported by, New Jersey’s public labor unions leaders say they are intently watching a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could strike down compulsory membership dues and threaten how they are funded.  The outcome is of major consequence in the Garden State and about 20 other states where public workers are required to join their union or participate in a so-called fair-share arrangement, where they pay only the portion of annual dues that supports the union’s non-partisan activities, like contract negotiations.  New Jersey has about 344,000 public union members.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers argue the arrangement violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.  A ruling in their favor would overrule a nearly 40-year old Supreme Court decision that allowed these fair-share, agency fee arrangements so all employees pay for the benefits they receive from collective bargaining.  Oral arguments will be held today in Washington.

“All eyes will be on the Supreme Court this spring, when we learn if the conservative-packed court will try to cripple public sector collective bargaining by ruling that non-members will not have to make a contribution toward the cost of their representation, thus forcing union members to unfairly pay the cost of free riders,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America.  “But however the decision comes out, we will do what we always do: fight for the rights of all workers on the job and for the critically important services that our members provide.”

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the benefits of membership, such as legal protection, give him confidence a ruling against mandatory membership dues wouldn’t devastate the organization.  He noted that if unions lose, they’ll have to market themselves to potential members.  “A lot of members that aren’t active in unions don’t see what their unions are doing,” he said, or “they may not all be in love with their unions, but they need to understand their benefits and compensation are very tied to what the union does.  No matter what union you’re in, you’re deriving some benefits from it.”

In New Jersey, fair-share representation fees for non-members cannot exceed 85 percent of the full-freight membership fee.  In 2012, just 2,041 employees opted for the New Jersey Education Association’s representation arrangement, while the public union, the state’s largest, had about 195,000 members.  Nonmembers paid 81.8 percent of the NJEA dues that year.

“We believe that it’s just a fundamental principle of fairness.  You should pay the cost of the representation you receive,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said.  “We maintain, and public section unions maintain, that you should not get those benefits without paying for the portion of the union dues that go for paying for those benefits.”