VIA| BREAKING! The Supreme Court left little doubt as to where it stands on the issue of requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to help support its public employees union: It’s ready to strike the requirement down…THIS is what we know.

The court’s more conservative justices sharply criticized the current system whereby public employees in 23 states and the District of Columbia must contribute to the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions’ demands on issues involving public policy.

“The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, seen as the lone conservative who might side with the unions.

When lawyers for California and its teachers union cited more mundane collective bargaining issues such as mileage rates and public safety, Chief Justice John Roberts objected. “It’s all money,” Roberts said. “The amount of money that’s going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that’s always a public policy issue.”

Their comments and others from justices who previously have criticized the practice of compelling union fees made it clear that the court is likely to strike down its nearly 40-year-old precedent allowing states to impose such requirements on a union’s non-members. That would make it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks.

The ruling, expected by late June, will come in the middle of an election year in which unions are overwhelmingly aligned with the Democratic Party. It could elevate bread-and-butter issues such as the minimum wage and income inequality on the political agenda, which has been dominated lately by the threats of international terrorism, illegal immigration and guns.

If the justices rule that the free speech rights of non-members entitle them to contribute nothing to the costs of representation — they already can opt out of financing unions’ political activities — more workers are likely to become “free riders.” That would lead to a drop in membership and revenue.

“If they are given a choice, they would prefer to have it for free, rather than to pay for it,” California Solicitor General Edward Dumont, siding with the unions, told the justices.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Californian who led much of the criticism from the bench of the mandatory union fees, said teachers challenging the requirement disagree with union positions on issues such as tenure, merit pay and class sizes. “The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders,” he said.

To arguments that those teachers retain the right to speak out against the policies they are helping to support with so-called “fair share” fees, Kennedy sarcastically asked if that meant they should “spend another $500 so that it balances out? That makes no sense.”

And Michael Carvin, the lawyer for the dissident teachers challenging the California Teachers Association, said predictions of doom from the unions are overstated. “They can’t make such an allegation in the real world,” he said.

The 325,000-member teachers union, which spends more on politics than any special interest group in the state, warned in its high court brief that tens of thousands of contracts governing millions of workers nationally could be thrown “into disarray.” More than 4.5 million teachers are union members.

The lawsuit was brought by the conservative Center for Individual Rights, which along with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has sought to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision that allowed public employee unions to collect “fair share” fees from non-members for the costs of collective bargaining.

“We wanted to take on the most powerful public employee union in the country,” says Terence Pell, the center’s president. If the court strikes down fair share fees, he says, “It’s our hope that the unions will become more accountable to their members.”

Good grief, I feel a headache coming on…

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