SCOTUS to hear case on involuntary union fees

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could deal a huge blow to public unions.  An Illinois child support worker sued AFSCME for violating his free speech rights by forcing him to pay "fair share fees" to the union, even though he refuses to become a member.  The case was brought after Illinois governor Bruce Rauner tried to halt the practice but was challenged in court.

Without being able to tap non-union workers who actually benefit from the union's collective bargaining, AFSCME would take a considerable financial hit, thus weakening its political power.

Chicago Tribune:

Losing the required fees worries labor leaders because it could lead to more workers leaving unions to avoid the cost, starving unions of money and members. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union at the center of the lawsuit called it "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."

A similar case out of California was already in the legal pipeline when Rauner acted in 2015. By the time it was decided, the Supreme Court was short one member following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The court issued a 4-4 split decision that left the existing system intact.

With President Donald Trump's appointment of Neil Gorsuch, the court's ruling in the Illinois case could deal a major blow to public-sector unions nationwide if Gorsuch sides with the conservative justices who were in favor of doing away with the "fair share" fees.

Unions negotiate new contracts and handle grievances on behalf of all workers within a bargaining unit, not just those who are members. The fees help pay for those efforts.

Illinois is one of about two dozen states that requires its workers to pay fair share fees to public employee unions even if they are not union members. The thinking is that workers who are not part of a union still benefit from its services, even if they don't support the union's political agenda. If the fees were no longer required, more workers might decide not to join unions in an effort to keep more money in their paychecks.

Rauner has contended that the fair share system violates free speech and that workers should not have to support unions they don't want to belong to. Unions are not allowed to spend fair share fees on political activities such as campaign contributions, but the governor has questioned that restriction, saying it's impossible to separate political activities because public-sector unions negotiate directly with the government.

"By its very nature, the activity of a government union is political," Rauner said in a Thursday interview with the Tribune. "Everything they do is political because it's inside government, it impacts politics."

Is there anything more inimical to personal freedom than being forced to pay for the privilege of working in your chosen field?  Those workers who choose to support the union can still do so by paying the fees.  But unions are terrified that given the option, most workers will opt out of paying.  They will have to compete for the loyalty of non-union workers by convincing them that paying the fees will benefit them directly.

Whether public unions truly represent the politics of their workers is also an open question.  Unions worry that their political agenda will have to conform more closely with the views of all their members in order to keep people paying.  They may not like it, but it's hard to argue that this wouldn't be a good thing.

There is no guarantee that SCOTUS will rule favorably on the suit.  Unions hold a mythic place in America, and some justices may be swayed by the argument that unions are doomed if they lose.  But in the end, it's probable that the five conservative justices will strike a blow for free speech and individual liberty by ruling for the plaintiff.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could deal a huge blow to public unions.  An Illinois child support worker sued AFSCME for violating his free speech rights by forcing him to pay "fair share fees" to the union, even though he refuses to become a member.  The case was brought after Illinois governor Bruce Rauner tried to halt the practice but was challenged in court.

Without being able to tap non-union workers who actually benefit from the union's collective bargaining, AFSCME would take a considerable financial hit, thus weakening its political power.

Chicago Tribune:

Losing the required fees worries labor leaders because it could lead to more workers leaving unions to avoid the cost, starving unions of money and members. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union at the center of the lawsuit called it "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."

A similar case out of California was already in the legal pipeline when Rauner acted in 2015. By the time it was decided, the Supreme Court was short one member following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The court issued a 4-4 split decision that left the existing system intact.

With President Donald Trump's appointment of Neil Gorsuch, the court's ruling in the Illinois case could deal a major blow to public-sector unions nationwide if Gorsuch sides with the conservative justices who were in favor of doing away with the "fair share" fees.

Unions negotiate new contracts and handle grievances on behalf of all workers within a bargaining unit, not just those who are members. The fees help pay for those efforts.

Illinois is one of about two dozen states that requires its workers to pay fair share fees to public employee unions even if they are not union members. The thinking is that workers who are not part of a union still benefit from its services, even if they don't support the union's political agenda. If the fees were no longer required, more workers might decide not to join unions in an effort to keep more money in their paychecks.

Rauner has contended that the fair share system violates free speech and that workers should not have to support unions they don't want to belong to. Unions are not allowed to spend fair share fees on political activities such as campaign contributions, but the governor has questioned that restriction, saying it's impossible to separate political activities because public-sector unions negotiate directly with the government.

"By its very nature, the activity of a government union is political," Rauner said in a Thursday interview with the Tribune. "Everything they do is political because it's inside government, it impacts politics."

Is there anything more inimical to personal freedom than being forced to pay for the privilege of working in your chosen field?  Those workers who choose to support the union can still do so by paying the fees.  But unions are terrified that given the option, most workers will opt out of paying.  They will have to compete for the loyalty of non-union workers by convincing them that paying the fees will benefit them directly.

Whether public unions truly represent the politics of their workers is also an open question.  Unions worry that their political agenda will have to conform more closely with the views of all their members in order to keep people paying.  They may not like it, but it's hard to argue that this wouldn't be a good thing.

There is no guarantee that SCOTUS will rule favorably on the suit.  Unions hold a mythic place in America, and some justices may be swayed by the argument that unions are doomed if they lose.  But in the end, it's probable that the five conservative justices will strike a blow for free speech and individual liberty by ruling for the plaintiff.

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