New York City Mayor Files Amicus Brief in Teachers Union Case

Published January 4, 2016

In an attempt to thwart what would be a devastating U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling against mandatory union membership, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has filed a brief defending the claim labor unions have the right to force employees to pay “agency fees,” which allegedly strip out costs in dues not related to collective bargaining.

New York City joined a growing number of parties filing amicus briefs in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association SCOTUS case. The ruling is expected to determine whether public sector union members must pay “agency fees” to the union. Those fees are usually less than the full union membership dues, because unions are supposed to take out any of the costs for activities not related to contract negotiations when setting agency fees.

If SCOTUS rules agency fees are unconstitutional, then union members would be able to opt out of unions without having to make any financial payments to it. Such a ruling would give rights to public sector union workers similar to those enjoyed by workers in right-to-work states.

The City of New York (NYC) employs 325,000 people, 93 percent of whom are represented by unions.

Arguing Over Taylor Law

The New York City brief mentions the Taylor Law, which the city claims “created a comprehensive scheme for public-sector labor relations designed to protect the public against the disruption of vital city services … while at the same time protecting the rights of public employees.”

The Taylor Law prevents strikes and created union harmony while allowing agency fee provisions, NYC argues. 

Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market research organization, takes issue with NYC using the Taylor Law in its defense of agency fees. The Taylor Law was a “lousy deal for taxpayers,” Malanga says.

As an example, Malanga cites union negotiations with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Unions were unhappy with the deals Bloomberg offered during contract negotiations, and the Taylor Law allowed union members to receive raises in the form of “step increases” and to continue to operate under the expired agreements, Malanga says. This allowed the unions to hold out until a new mayor more favorable to the unions came into office and offered a better deal.

“That was entirely because of the features of the Taylor Law,” Malanga said. “There are some aspects of Taylor that are beneficial, but others that unions can exploit.”

Malanga says if SCOTUS rules agency fees are illegal, the true degree of the public’s discontent with public sector unions will likely be revealed.

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Image by PRSA-NY.