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SUPREME COURT DECISION–PUBLIC UNIONS CAN NO LONGER ENFORCE PAYMENT AMONG NON-MEMBERS

In the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Janus, an Illinois child support specialist, filed a complaint challenging the $45 monthly fee he had to pay to the union that represents him, despite not being a member.  His charge was that his First Amendment right was violated when money is taken from non-consenting employees for a public-sector union.

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector “agency shop” arrangements, which mandate union fees from non-consenting public-sector employees, violate the First Amendment.  The 5-4 decision overturned a 41-year-old decision that allowed states to require public employees to pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers chose not to join.

The Supreme Court decision from 1977, ruled in the Abood v. Detroit Education Association case that unions may impose fees on nonunion government workers for nonpolitical expenses including collective bargaining, administration of union contracts and internal grievance procedures.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the 5-4 majority, “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”  According to Justice Alito, workers like Mr. Janus were charged about 78 percent of the dues paid by members of the union.

After concluding that the imposition of fair share fees violate the First Amendment, the Court noted that “Abood” failed to appreciate the conceptual difficulty of distinguishing in public-sector cases between union expenditures that are made for collective-bargaining purposes and those that are made to achieve political ends” and that “Abood does not seem to have anticipated the magnitude of the practical administration problems that would result in attempting to classify public-sector union expenditures as either ‘chargeable…or non-chargeable.”

This decision impacts how public-sector unions work and may have implications for private-sector labor issues.  Currently, there are 28 states that have right-to-work laws which forbid unions and employers to enter into agreements requiring employees to join a union and pay dues and fees to it in order to get or keep a job.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could affect about 5 million public sector workers in 22 states that don’t have right-to-work laws that already ban forced union dues.  The impact may further erode the power of public sector unions and/or lead unions to be more responsive and attentive to its current members.

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