Supreme court to hear union fees case
Source: POLITICO Pro by Ian Kullgren
The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to take up a case challenging the legality of union fees that poses a grave financial threat to organized labor.
The case, Janus v. AFSCME, argues that public-sector unions should not be permitted to require non-members to pay so-called fair share or agency fees to cover their portion of costs associated with collective bargaining in their workplace. If the new conservative majority, as expected, rules that the unions may not charge such fees, public employee unions — and the larger labor movement that they’ve been propping up in recent years — will likely suffer a substantial loss of funds.
Private-sector unions have already suffered financial losses in recent years with the spread of so-called right-to-work laws at the state level. These laws similarly forbid unions from extracting fees from non-members, creating what economists call a “free rider” problem in which workers enjoy the financial benefits of a unionized workplace without having to pay for them. Made possible by the 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, right-to-work laws were passed throughout the south and the west in the 1950s, then mostly subsided until the current decade, when they were enacted in five midwestern states and in West Virginia, once a union stronghold. Twenty-eight states are now right-to-work.
Janus involves Illinois state employee Mark Janus, who maintains that his free speech rights were violated by his obligation to pay fair share fees to AFSCME. His case is a challenge to a 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the high court ruled that unions could compel payments from non-members so long as those payments were not used to subsidize political activity. Janus argues that salaries, benefits and other matters resolved through the collective bargaining he was compelled to subsidize are political by nature.
The high court heard a similar case last year, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and was widely expected to rule against non-member fees. But Justice Antonin Scalia died before a decision was reached, and the court subsequently deadlocked 4-4. Scalia’s replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch, is expected to be a decisive fifth vote against AFSCME.
“This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement.
“The merits of the case, and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent and sound law, are on our side,” Saunders added. “We look forward to the Supreme Court honoring its earlier rulings.”