During a decline of unions, public sector unions receive a massive blow in their ability to mandate workers to pay fees.
On June 27, the Supreme Court (USSC) ruled by a 5-4 vote that independent government workers will no longer be subjected to pay union fees in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME Local 2600) case.
The effect of the ruling could ultimately mean that the U.S. will become a “right to work zone.” As a result, labor unions could lose millions of dollars in revenue and weaken in power.
Samuel A. Alito Jr., a conservative Associate Justice, wrote the majority opinion stating, “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.” He added, “…This procedure violates the First Amendment and cannot continue.”
While Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the majority opinion, Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with the verdict.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan expressed her discontent saying that the court’s decision displaces a ruling that has been in effect for 40 years.
“It prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance,” said Kagan, according to the New York Times. “And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”
Private versus Public
According to a report by the New York Times, the decision will unlikely place a direct effect on unionized employees of private businesses. The First Amendment restricts government activity, not private management.
However, the ruling negatively impacts most labor unions because they gain support from the public sector. Now, workers cannot have union fees deducted from their wages unless they agree to do so. President Trump is satisfied with the ruling, calling it a “big loss” for Democrats via Twitter.
Although Republicans may be in favor of the judgment, labor organizations such as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are already expressing their discontent in the USSC conclusion. According to a press released statement by CWA President, Chris Shelton, the right-wing attack on labor unions is intentional, making it more difficult for working people to protect themselves when corporations misuse their power.
“This decision continues a long campaign by corporate interests and right-wing groups to restrict our ability to stand together,” said Shelton. “While these special interest groups might be celebrating their victory against workers’ freedom to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves, their families, and their communities, union members will be using this as a rallying cry to fight back harder than ever before.”
Although, seemingly the end of the fight for labor unions, associations such as the CWA claim to continually work toward getting support on a local and national level, in efforts to make it easier for people to join unions.
Rise of the Anti-Union
Unions use collective bargaining to improve employees’ wages, benefits and working conditions through negotiations with the employer on behalf of the labor force.
Mark Janus, an Illinois state government and non-union employee who worked as a child support specialist, refused to join the union due to his disapproval of its positions and collective bargaining tactics. Hence, Janus joined the lawsuit initially filed by now-governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, against AFSCME Local 2600 and their fair share fees collected from every state worker. He volunteered is his name to be used in the case, and now is the figurehead of a historical decision regarding public-sector unions..
“Taking this issue on was one of my primary reasons for running for governor in the first place,” Rauner told the Chicago Tribune, “it’s about fighting conflict of interest and government corruption…And who pays for all of that? The taxpayers.”
The amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief in the USSC opinion, says that like other states, Illinois allows public sector unions, acting as exclusive bargaining representatives, to charge non-member state employees a fee for “their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and conditions of employment.”
Janus argued in state district court that non-member payment of dues to labor unions violates the First Amendment. As reported by The Constitute Project, the first amendment says “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise … or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The district court rejected Janus’ argument, with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals supporting its decision.
Back in January, the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), a D.C-based think tank, law firm, and Constitution reinforcement action center filed an amicus brief on behalf of Janus.
The organization, in support of current and former Republican state and local officeholders, explains in the brief that, “nothing in the Constitution prohibits the agency fee arrangements at issue in this case and that whether these arrangements are good policy is a decision that belongs to the relevant state governments.”
“Requiring government employees to pay agency fees to cover the costs of making and enforcing collective bargaining agreements falls within the broad authority states possess to manage their workforce,” the report stated. “It ‘does not infringe any liberties the employee might have enjoyed as a private citizen. It simply reflects the exercise of employer control over what the employer itself has commissioned or created.’
The determination countermanded the court’s decision in the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, where the USSC deemed it constitutional to require non-union members to help pay for the union’s collective bargaining..
After the district court rejected his argument, the petitioners took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Shortly after the new case was argued in 2015, Justice Antonin Scalia, notoriously known for having staunch conservative leanings, died resulting in a 4 to 4 stalemate. The Trump Administration’s newly appointed conservative justice of the court, Neil Gorsuch, helped win the majority vote, resulting in the final majority decision of 5-4 in June.
Earlier this week, word broke that Janus resigned from his state job to work for the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that worked on the Janus v AFSCME case.
*Yolanda Aguilera contributed to this article.