In this first day of oral arguments for Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it’s not looking good for the unions.

The case may overturn long-standing practice that permits unions to charge reduced fees (also known as “fair share” or “agency fees”) to employees of the same class who are not union members, on the understandable basis that the union wins concrete benefits that extend to all workers — not just the ones who joined the union. The basis of some public employees’ complaints is that they don’t approve of the political stands of their unions, and don’t want to pay for it. (Not unlike the “I don’t want one penny of my money to pay for birth control because it oppresses my religious freedom” argument. You will probably not be surprised to learn that this challenge is funded by the right-wing Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and a veritable plethora of other conservative foundations.)

And this is really, really important for progressives. Why?

If SCOTUS rules against them, it means public employees will get all the benefits of belonging to a union (better wages and working conditions) without actually paying dues. In other words, such a decision would encourage a parasitical, free-rider effect that would cut union dues — and thus, their ability to lobby and get out the vote.

Which is the point, after all.

Ian Millhiser of Think Progress is not optimistic after this morning’s session before the Court. He said it looked like Justice Anthony Kennedy,  a frequent swing voter, “appeared to grow increasingly angry with the unions as the argument proceeded.” He also points out that the Supreme Court has “already dropped two big hints that it’s ready to cut of a major source of funding for public sector unions.”

Oral arguments don’t always point to the outcome of a case, but it’s not looking good right now if you’re on the side of the unions.

The plaintiffs are claiming a First Amendment infringement (just like the Obamacare birth control complaints), even though the percentage of the fees that goes to political action has already been deducted from their dues.

Poor, oppressed union-hating teachers who are still perfectly happy to take the money and run.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

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