Tag Archive: public sector

Apr 12

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

By Ross Pollack.

On March 29, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a divided 4-4 opinion in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, thus upholding the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The one sentence opinion belies the importance of the case, which only two months earlier appeared as though it would nearly certainly cripple public sector unions’ ability to collect funds. At issue in the case was whether a public sector union could charge agency fees (the equivalent of Union Dues) to employees who elected not to join the Union. The teachers who brought the case argued compulsory agency fees violated their first amendment rights to use money as free speech because the Union might spend the money on political or ideological causes the employees did not support. In its 1977 decision, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory agency fees were constitutional. Following this precedent in Friedrichs, the Ninth Circuit found that the Union was allowed to charge compulsory agency fees. Since the Supreme Court did not issue a majority opinion, that ruling and the Abood precedent stand.

However, the outcome in Friedrichs does not mean the debate over the legality of compulsory agency fees has been resolved. The two previous Supreme Court cases illustrated that several Justices would like to change the current precedent. In 2012, writing for the majority opinion in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, Justice Alito suggested that with regard to compulsory agency fees, “our prior decisions approach, if they do not cross, the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate.” Next, in the 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision, Justice Alito used even stronger language to voice opposition to the precedent on agency fees: “Abood failed to appreciate the difference between the core union speech involuntarily subsidized by dissenting public-sector employees and the core union speech involuntarily funded by their counterparts in the private sector.” Union opposition groups took these decisions as a signal that the time was ripe to find a case that directly challenged the Abood precedent on First Amendment grounds.

Friedrichs became that case. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear arguments on whether compulsory agency fees violate the free speech rights of non-member public employees. Justice Scalia was considered to be the swing vote in this case until reports emerged that the questions he asked during oral arguments indicated he did not support the Abood precedent. The New York Times even ran the headline, “Supreme Court Seems Poised to Deal Unions a Major Setback.” However, after Justice Scalia’s sudden passing in February, the remaining justices were left deadlocked on the issue. Rather than let the case sit indefinitely until a new justice was appointed, the Court issued a divided 4-4 opinion, which by default lets the Abood precedent stand.

However, the issues of whether compulsory agency fees are constitutional has not been definitively settled. In confirmation hearings for the new justice, the public should expect to hear Senators asking questions that allude to this first amendment issue. Also, expect a case with similar facts to arrive on the Supreme Court’s docket once a new justice is appointed.

Sep 27

AFL-CIO Law Student Union Summer – Apply Now!

The AFL-CIO will once again be offering Law Student Union Summer (LSUS), an exciting program for law students that combines traditional legal research and analysis with front line activism. This 10-week internship combines public interest labor related legal work with union campaigning and organizing. This position is more than just a desk job, LSUS interns are involved in community outreach, member mobilization, corporate and other non-legal research, legislative campaigns and general litigation. Organizing activities, including canvassing, planning and implementing
solidarity-building activities and participating in meetings and home visits, are another primary component of the program.

The deadline is fast approaching for 2L’s interested in this program, please apply by October 17, 2014. Interested 1L’s must apply by January 16, 2015.

To apply, you must submit an application, cover letter (please see application for requirements), résumé,writing sample, law school transcript (may be unofficial), and current contact information for three references (preferably a combination of academic and/or work/internship-related). Send your application materials to AFL-CIO Law Student Union Summer.

Please see the flyer, application, and further eligibility guidelines below.

2015 Flyer

Eligibility & Requirements

Application 2015







Nov 12

Professor Gregory in the News

Our own Professor David L. Gregory, executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has been quoted several times in the New York Times in the past week. As a preeminent scholar on labor and employment law issues, Professor Gregory was quoted on varied current events, ranging from all municipal unions in New York City to the recent scandal involving workplace misconduct at the Miami Dolphins Franchise. See the links below for the past week’s articles and feel free to submit any that we might have missed in the comments!

For de Blasio, Contract Talks Offer Problem

N.F.L. Picks Lawyer to Lead Inquiry Into Dolphins

Oct 26

15th Annual Worker’s Rights Conference

On October 25th and 26th, I had the privilege of attending the Peggy Browning Fund’s 15th Annual National Law Students Worker’s Rights Conference in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.  The event brought together law students across the country interested in the future of workers’ rights. The conference gave a greater understanding of the issues facing American workers, and was an opportunity to network with fellow students, and top practitioners in the field.

On Friday evening, conference attendees were treated to a showing of Trash Dance.  The film explored an artist’s organization of sanitation workers in Austin, Texas for a performance piece.  After the film, students offered opinions about the film’s metaphors for worker organization.

On Saturday morning, AFL-CIO General Counsel and former NLRB Member Craig Becker delivered the conference’s keynote address.  Mr. Becker reflected on his own experiences when speaking about unions’ future challenges.  He also offered insights into labor cases on the Supreme Court’s current docket and organized labor’s reception of the Affordable Care Act.

Students then participated in workshops that covered various salient issues. I attended three different workshops, all led by prominent figures in organized labor. Dennis Walsh, Regional Director of Region 4 of the NLRB, discussed the NLRA’s nuances in “Introduction to Basic Labor Law”. Fred Feinstein, former General Counsel to the NLRB, detailed how anti-union consultants grew from cottage industry to well-oiled machine in “Future of Worker Mobilization”. Baldwin Robertson, partner of Woodley & McGillivary, summarized issues facing state and municipal union members in “Public Sector Labor Law”.

In the plenary session on Saturday afternoon, panelists Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Peggy Shorey summarized new assaults on collective bargaining rights in the states, including new right-to-work initiatives and movements to end dues check-offs.  In closing remarks, Dennis Walsh, Marley Weiss and Joe Lurie thanked all conference organizers for their hard work in putting together the engaging and educational programming. It was my pleasure to represent St. John’s University School of Law at the conference.  The Peggy Browning Fund’s programs contribute greatly to the labor law community, and I was fortunate to be a part of this year’s conference.

Panelists (L to R): Peggy Shorey, Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Matthew Ginsburg.

Panelists (L to R): Peggy Shorey, Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Matthew Ginsburg.

Jul 08

Alyssa Zuckerman speaks about the St. John’s Center for Labor and Employment Law

Watch our blog’s founder and recent graduate, Alyssa Zuckerman, speaking about her experiences with this blog, St. John’s Center for Labor and Employment Law, and the Labor and Employment programs at St. John’s University School of Law. Watch the video to hear more about the opportunities available at St. John’s and learn how the STJCLEL helps students gain a broad perspective and assist  in defining and advancing a chosen career path.


You can explore the rest of the viewbook here.

Sep 23

Reflections on the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

This past Wednesday, an overwhelming majority of delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union (“CTU”) voted to end the union’s ten-day strike.[1] The strike was the CTU’s first in over twenty-five years,[2] and many spectators believe it has fundamentally changed the national conversations about education policy and labor alike.

The negotiations that have paved the way for a new contract between the city and the CTU led both parties to make concessions. The teachers did not receive as substantial a raise as they had hoped, but they successfully resisted several significant changes that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to impose, including a new teacher evaluation program, and they instituted a new recall policy for top teachers who are laid off as a result of school closings.[3] Mayor Emanuel counted his efforts toward implementing a longer school day among his successes during the negotiations.[4] Although the CTU President, Karen Lewis, has expressed some dissatisfaction with the substance of the new agreement, she regards the strike as successful and anticipates that the delegates will approve it during the coming weeks.[5]

As the Chicago teachers’ strike drew to a close, many questions remained unanswered. Some continued wondering whether the essential questions underlying the dispute, like the propriety of tying teacher evaluations to students’ standardized test scores or the specter of increasing competition from charter schools, were adequately resolved. Because both the city and the union made concessions in the new contract, others queried who “won.”[6] One facet of the strike that especially captured the popular imagination is assessing what impact this strike will have during these crucial weeks leading up to the presidential election,[7] especially in view of President Obama’s conspicuous silence during a dispute that has special salience for the President.

Because the Chicago public school system is the third-largest in the country,[8] onlookers have viewed this strike as something of a referendum on the troubled state of public education and the continuing role of public sector labor unions.[9] In light of the ongoing fight between Wisconsin public employees and Governor Scott Walker, it is perhaps not an exaggeration to say, as Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union did, that the strike in Chicago was an “epic battle.”[10] Labor leaders like Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, have applauded the teachers, emphasizing that they have the right to reframe the conversation about education policy because of their unique perspective on what kinds of change are necessary to improve education.[11] It seems likely that the CTU will galvanize teachers’ unions across the country in speaking out on behalf of their needs and the best interests of students as the debate about education policy grows ever fiercer.


[1] Monica Davey & Steven Yaccino, Teachers End Chicago Strike on Second Try, N.Y. Times, Sept. 18, 2012, at A1.

[2] See id.

[3] Ellen Jean Hirst & Jennifer Delgado, It’s Back to School Again for Chicago Students, Chi. Tribune, Sept. 19, 2012, available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-19/news/chi-todays-assignment-seal-deal-with-chicago-teachers-20120918_1_chicago-teachers-union-chicago-students-first-day.

[4] Davey & Yaccino, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Valerie Strauss, Who Won the Chicago Teachers Strike?, Wash. Post, Sept. 19, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/who-won-the-chicago-teachers-strike/2012/09/18/974b5efa-020b-11e2-b257-e1c2b3548a4a_blog.html.

[7] See Lyndsey Layton, Peter Wallsten, & Bill Turque, Chicago Teachers Strike Places Obama at Odds with Key Part of Political Base, Wash. Post, Sept. 11, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chicago-teachers-strike-places-obama-at-odds-with-key-part-of-political-base/2012/09/11/df89a776-fc2a-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_story.html.

[8] Davey & Yaccino, supra note 1.

[9] Monica Davey & Steven Greenhouse, School Days Resume in Chicago as the Lessons from a Strike Are Assessed, N.Y. Times, Sept. 19, 2012, at A19.

[10] Layton, Wallsten & Turque, supra note 7.

[11] See id.