By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to take up a case that could weaken public sector unions, a challenge by 10 non-union public school teachers who say California's requirement that they pay the equivalent of union dues violates their free speech rights.
The teachers have asked the court to upend a decades-old practice that lets public-sector unions collect money from workers who do not want union representation so long as the money is not spent on political activities.
The case targeting various teachers' unions offers the justices a chance potentially to overturn a significant labor law precedent from 1977 in the case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In that case, the high court held that such payments to unions by nonmembers were necessary because otherwise nonmembers would benefit at no cost from collective bargaining.
Teacher unions, including the California Teachers Association, urged the court not to take the case, as did California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Members of the Supreme Court's conservative wing, including Justice Samuel Alito, have criticized the precedent.
The court will hear oral arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2016.
The case is Friedrichs et al, v. California Teachers Association, et al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-915.