Supreme Court ties 4-4 on fair share fees vote

SCOTUS vote means union fees will continue for the time being.

Brian Edwards

The recent death of a U.S. Supreme Court justice has delayed efforts to ban a controversial union fee. 


The court’s 4-4 vote on fair share fees -— a due employees pay if they belong to a bargaining group but aren’t a part of the union — means unions can continue to charge non-members. The tie leaves the lower court’s ruling in place, meaning the issue could eventually be brought to the justices again in the future.

By law, a union is required to represent every member of its bargaining unit. But unions can’t force anyone to join, said Stephen Befort, a University of Minnesota law professor.
In some states, unions charge fees to non-members who benefit from collective bargaining and are part of the unit, he said. Minnesota is one of the states that allow fair 
share fees.
Opponents of the fee argued that it violates the First Amendment because it forces people to support political views they may not agree with, Befort said. 
Service Employees International Union, the union that would represent University faculty unionization if efforts come to fruition, called the decision a “significant defeat for the wealthy special interests.”
“Millions of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public service workers will continue to be able to band together in a union,” the group said in a statement.
If the University votes to unionize, faculty members who don’t join the union will be required to pay the fair share fee, and they cannot hold a leadership position within the bargaining unit, said John Budd, a professor in the department of work and organizations in the Carlson School of Management.
Still, the victory for unions will most likely be debated again in the future, though it may take a different form, Budd said.
“It maintains the status quo, but it doesn’t prevent future challenges,” he said.
In the meantime, unions and groups lobbying against them will try to draw employees to their side, Budd said.
“Some of that is just more of a mindset change,” he said. “There [are] issues in trying to build solidarity in the labor movement.”
Recent advocacy efforts, like Fight for $15, represent union pushes to show employees around the country how collective advocacy can help, Budd said.
Still, cases move through the court slowly, and it would take at least two years for a case to make it to the court again to challenge the ruling, Befort said.
The case was pushed to the court because Supreme Court justices had previously expressed interest in hearing the case, he said.
However, the unexpected death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia changed the court’s landscape, he said.
Groups opposing unions would most likely wait until a new justice is appointed before pursuing another legal battle, he said.
If the chosen justice is conservative, groups might try to push another case to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible, Befort said.
“I think it’s likely that it’ll be a while,” he said, “unless there is a case in the pipeline.”