Supreme Court will hear union fee case: Unions respond with anger


The case will be before a Supreme Court with a restored ninth judge, Neil Gorsuch, who could join the previous four conservative votes and overturn a 40-year-old decision that allows public sector unions to demand fees from non-members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts.

"Janus" is Mark Janus, an IL state employee who argues that he should not have to pay dues to the union to which he does not belong even if it represents him.

Half of the nation's union members work for the public sector, with one in three public-sector employees, or 34.4 percent, represented by unions. The same constitutional analysis would seem to apply to both public and private sector unions whenever the government forces anti-union employees to pay union fees.

That case, Friedrichs v. California Teacher's Association, was over the approximately $650 each teacher in California has to pay the union, despite the fact the union's political statements and bargaining activities may be in direct violation of any individual teacher's speech rights.

California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs challenged her union in a similar case that went to the Supreme Court past year.

Disputes over a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and partisan electoral maps top the Supreme Court's agenda in the first full term of the Trump presidency. With five conservative Supreme Court Justices on the bench seemingly ready to strike down Abood and hand them a victory, it seemed that public sector unions were about to be dealt a crippling blow. The latest appeal is from a state employee in IL.

The court agreed to consider a free-speech challenge from IL workers who object to paying dues to unions they oppose.

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Since taking office, the Governor has waged a very public fight against AFSCME, arguing they are the creators of a "corrupt bargain" with public officials by using union dues to help get them elected, and then having those same officials negotiate contracts with lavish pay and benefit increases.

The NEA has about 87,000 fee-payers. Public sector unions may find it hard to fund a variety of worker advocacy positions they now support, including the development and backing of statutory and regulatory initiatives across the country.

Supporters of the lawsuit argue it's about the freedom to choose. A person with legal standing has a right to bring a lawsuit because they were harmed by a law or action. But if these dues constitute compelled political speech, how can the state require anti-union workers to pay them? But to those who view unions as eternally pesky enemies of job creators, and public-sector unions as self-serving champions of socialism, the end justifies the means.

Whether public unions truly represent the politics of their workers is also an open question.

"We are now one step closer to freeing over 5 million public-sector teachers, police officers, firefighters and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government", said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union legal activist group that represents Janus.

On Thursday he told an Illinois Chamber of Commerce luncheon that he planned to veto the bill, and he alluded to the court challenge that is underway.