BREAKING NEWS - IN HUGE BLOW TO ORGANIZED LABOR, SUPREME COURT RULES NON-UNION WORKERS CANNOT BE FORCED TO PAY FEES TO UNIONS
By Kevin Ryan
The Supreme Court has ruled this morning public employees cannot be forced to pay fees that fund the work of public sector unions. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, was one of the most hotly anticipated of the term, and experts say it’s the most significant court decision affecting collective bargaining in decades.
Mark Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services, asked the court last summer to overrule a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision. It found that public sector unions could require employees affected by their negotiations to pay so-called “agency fees,” also known as “fair share fee”, meant to cover collective bargaining costs, such as contract negotiations.
Janus argued that his $45 monthly fee to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees infringed on his his first amendment rights, and was a form of forced political advocacy. He argued that there was little distinction, for instance, between requiring employees to fund unions that engage in political lobbying and requiring them to fund political groups such as the Democratic Party.
Many unions have relied heavily on the forced agency fees because dwindling union membership has shrunk the pool of dues that finance their lobbying and other activities.
The 5-4 ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is likely to have a profound impact extending far beyond the workplace. Unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Education Association, which provide significant funds, resources, and activists largely in support of Democratic candidates, will see their finances sapped. Significant drops in membership are all but inevitable, as happened in many states that adopted “right-to-work” laws that forbid forced union membership.
Today’s decision does not impact private-sector contracts. Unlike government agencies, private businesses generally aren’t required to respect free-speech rights and can establish various conditions of employment, including requiring fair-share fees, if permitted by state law.