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Preparing for Friedrichs: A US Supreme Court case that affects all of us

Submitted by Staff on Thu, 02/18/2016 - 12:24

On February 8, 2016, Vice President Deepa Kumar wrote:

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to let you know what your union, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, is doing to prepare for the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. We expect a ruling in this case by the end of June.

To give you some background about this case: In Friedrichs, the plaintiffs--a handful of California teachers--backed by pro-corporate forces like the Koch brothers, argue that they are being forced to pay for political activities and speech with which they do not agree by having to pay “agency fees.” Under current law, public sector unions may charge an “agency fee” in lieu of dues for those workers represented by a union, but who have not joined that union. At Rutgers, the “agency” fee is referred to as a “representation” fee to more clearly state the meaning of the fee. 

This agency fee covers the union’s costs for representing all workers in a particular unit. These costs include the work entailed in contract negotiation, contract enforcement, member mobilization, handling grievances etc. At Rutgers, as in other public sector unions, your dues and agency fees are not used to support candidates of any party, whether Republican, Democratic or any other. Instead, the union only uses additional voluntary contributions from full members that are placed in a separate and discreet fund for union political activities.

At the heart of the issue is whether employees who are nonmembers should continue to pay agency fees. If the court rules against unions, as seems likely from the oral arguments in January, 1.6 million employees nationwide could become "free riders" who pay nothing to support their unions' bargaining and other representation activities. Their unions will still bear the responsibility to represent nonmembers. This imbalance would drain much needed resources from unions, including ours.

Why do we need a plan to stem the effects of Friedrichs?

For tenured/tenure-track faculty: Let me give you five reasons: annual raises, paid sabbaticals, workload limits, academic freedom, and tenure. All these are the result of negotiations supported by an activist and strong union. On tenure, let us take the case of Wisconsin. Similar pro-corporate and anti-union forces have severely weakened tenure protections in the University of Wisconsin system.The only thing that stands between us and a similar attack in New Jersey is a robust, healthy union.

For non-tenure track full-time faculty: Let me give you several reasons directly relevant to those working off the tenure-track: regular salary raises, defense of fairness and dignity on the job, and the need to counter the precariousness of working off the tenure track.

For Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, Dilara Demir wrote to you saying, graduate student employees are concerned about protecting and increasing TA and GA lines, adequate salaries, health insurance, tuition remission, access to professional development money, and protection from arbitrary discipline. We have a long way to go, but we’ve been able to win so much for graduate student workers at Rutgers because of the collective efforts of our union.

To withstand Friedrichs we are encouraging all of our colleagues to become full members in the coming months. Already, a large majority of faculty are full members, but many of us are not. That must change if we're to maintain—let alone advance upon—past gains. But we cannot do this without your help. Many more of you have been involved with the union over the years. We are using a similar approach to withstand the impact of the Friedrichs decision and urge all of you to take some time to support your union.

Here is what you can do:

- As a full member of the AAUP-AFT, you can talk to your rep fee colleagues about the importance of being a full member. Email us (via to let us know what times you might be available to recruit your colleagues and either myself, another colleague, or a staff member will contact you to help you if you need help. During the two weeks following February 29, we will have additional organizers from the AFT working with our staff and I want to encourage you to send us your free times during those weeks as well. Your presence at these one-on-one meetings will make a real difference.

-Note: Full-Time faculty members who are not full members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT are paying the agency fee, which, by law, may be up to 85% of membership dues (about 0.64% of salary). Faculty who pay this fee but aren’t full members give up their ability to have a voice in the direction of the union. For example, agency fee payers may not vote for union representatives or vote to ratify any collective agreements between the union and the Administration. For a few pennies more per week, nonmembers may become full members with all the benefits that go along with union membership (full members pay 0.75% of their salary, while TA-GA dues are 0.60%. Click here to download a membership form and view dues information:

-Put up on your office door, window or anywhere else you see fit our new poster explaining many of the things that the union does for faculty. Email us via and we can get a copy of the poster to you.

If you get involved, together we can stand up to the Koch brothers’ agenda!

In solidarity,

Deepa Kumar
Vice-President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Media Studies (School of Communication & Information, New Brunswick)

Rutgers AAUP-AFT
11 Stone Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Office phone: (732) 964-1000
Fax: (732) 964-1032

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