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In Wake Of Scalia's Death, Fate Of Labor Union 'Agency Fees' Unclear

California labor unions are proceeding with caution, even though the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia likely derails a court case against them. The California Labor Federation’s Steve Smith says his organization is not declaring victory yet.

"Things have changed, we don’t quite yet know what this means," says Smith.

The high court was considering whether unions can charge non-members “agency fees,” if they benefit from their services. After oral arguments last month, many court observers predicted a 5-to-4 decision against the union fees.

But the chair of UC Berkeley’s Labor Center Ken Jacobs says without Scalia, that decision is likely scuttled.

"It appears that agency fee is going to survive at least for now and that the Friedrichs case is unlikely to succeed at least in the short-run," says Jacobs.

The plaintiffs sped the case to the Supreme Court by asking lower courts to rule against them. 

If the justices end up in a 4-4 tie, that lower court decision in favor of the unions would stand.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified UC Berkeley's Ken Jacobs. The story has been updated.