The United States Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that employees in the public sector cannot be charged collective bargaining costs, commonly referred to as “fair-share fees,” if they decline to join a labor union.
Public employees are (now WERE) required to pay collective bargaining fees and subsidize their industry’s labor union, effectively securing better wages and benefits, and far more opportunities, for all those in the labor union. The Supreme Court said not anymore (in any state), although the vote was close (5-4). In fact, the Court dealt with a similar case in 2016, but offered no decision, with an eight-member Court deadlocked in a 4-4 vote.
With this ruling, the system is pointedly denying workers any shred of equality. No one is standing up for the “little guy,” as precedent has stipulated for more than four decades. A 1977 decision distinguished between mandatory “agency fees” and voluntary union dues. No longer will there be such a distinction because the Supreme Court has decided that all collective bargaining fees and negotiations are inherently political. In other words, if a public sector employee does not financially contribute to his or her union, fellow public sector employees within the labor union will certainly suffer. Additionally, the decision sparks concern that nonmembers choosing not to pay labor union dues might piggyback on coworkers who are members. So much for “fair.” In nearly half of all U.S. states, nonmembers were (up until last week) required to contribute collective bargaining fees for the labor unions that represent them. States like Minnesota, Illinois, California and New York will be especially hurt by this ruling.
Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, brought the case to the Supreme Court because he was unhappy paying partial labor union dues, when he himself chose not to take part in the labor union that included him. It is hard to understand why an individual would elect not to take part in a fairness he or she is helping to subsidize as well as a fairness that already represents said individual.
So, here’s our question, also posed by an opinion columnist for the Washington Post: if “money” reflects your personal freedom, why are you compromising the personal freedom of others to organize and operate effectively?
Dissenting Justice Elena Kagan said it best: “Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support. Across the country, the relationships of public employees and employers will alter in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways. Rarely if ever has the Court overruled a decision — let alone one of this import — with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis.” Stare decisis is the principle of making legal decisions according to precedent.
Lee Saunders, president of a popular public sector labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (the exact union Janus was fighting), issued the following statement even before a decision was announced: “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.”