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Livonia, Mich.---June 27, 2018---The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its long-awaited decision holding that government workers electing not to join a union cannot be charged for the cost of contract negotiation and administration – also known as agency fees.
The pro-worker decision was based on the Plaintiff’s argument that in the public sector, union dues or agency fees amount to a “subsidization of private speech on matters of substantial public concern.” The Plaintiff, Mark Janus, was an Illinois public employee who objected to payment of even partial costs to a union due to the union’s position on certain political issues. It violated his right to free speech. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employee’s Council 31 (6/27/2018)
This decision erodes a 1977 Supreme Court case out of Michigan called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that held that although union dues could not be mandatory for members that chose to stay union-free (or in many cases leave the union), the union could charge an agency fee to cover its contract negotiation and administrative costs. This has been the law of the land for public employers and unions until today.
Today’s Supreme Court’s decision “found that negotiations by public sector unions are inherently political” due to tax money compensating the public workers as well as lobbying activity and general union speech supported by union funds.
Unions and their supporters call workers that do not want to pay dues “free riders.” Janus argued it is more like a worker being “shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.”
This decision has been dreaded by unions since the case started working its way through the federal courts. Their concern was over the potential loss of financial support rather than the value of free speech.
Though private sector union membership has been dropping consistently - now less than 7% - public sector union membership has remained fairly stable at above 35% of government workers and near 12% of the total workforce.
Perhaps in anticipation of the worst, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) surveyed its membership and found that if agency fees were no longer mandatory they may lose up to 15% of their member payments. 50% indicated they were “on the fence” as far as continuing to pay after a decision that allowed them the option to stop payment.
Source: NPR Supreme Court Deals Blow to Government Unions (6/27/2018). Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employee’s Council 31 (6/27/2018)