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.”

Supreme Court Building. 23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Unions in Hawaii had been carefully watching the Friedrichs V. California Teachers Association case for possible ramifications in the state. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

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 Hanselman wrote 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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