Unions could take a big hit from SCOTUS

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a landmark case that will decide the legality of fees paid by non-union workers to public employee unions to help cover the costs of collective bargaining.

The court heard another case in 2016 involving the forced payment of fees by non-union workers and appeared ready to overturn the 1977 decision that allowed the practice.  But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia deadlocked the court at 4-4, upholding the legality of the fees.

With another bite at the apple, the court is expected to strike a blow against public employee unions.


Republican President Donald Trump's appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year restored the Supreme Court's 5-4 conservative majority.  Gorsuch could cast the deciding vote in dooming agency fees.

Depriving unions of agency fees could hamstring their ability to spend in political races.  They typically back Democratic candidates over Republicans.

The 2016 case was brought by non-union California public school teachers. The plaintiff in the current case is Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois who opted not to join the union that represents employees like him, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

In both cases, the challengers argued that being forced to pay the agency fees to unions whose views they may not share violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Unions in both cases contended that mandatory agency fees are needed in order to eliminate the problem of what they call "free riders" – non-members who benefit from union representation, for example through salary and working conditions obtained in collective bargaining – without actually paying for it.

Janus, 65, is backed in the legal fight by anti-union groups including the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

He said in an interview he is not a member of a political party and his objection to the fees was not based on politics.  Janus said he has chafed at having to pay the fees, currently just under $50 a month, since starting his current stint working for Illinois in 2007.

"I don't agree with the fact that someone is telling me I have to support something without asking me about that.  This is not freedom of association.  If I don't pay, I lose my job," Janus said.

AFSCME and other public-sector unions have called the case a well-funded attack by corporations and billionaires to undermine organized labor.

Isn't it amazing that those who yelp the loudest for "fairness" inevitably wind up supporting the extraordinarily unfair practices of unions?

The fees forcibly paid by non-union workers free up millions of dollars for AFSCME to spend on candidates who will be beholden to them.  But it's not only that.  Spending money on collective bargaining activities means that the non-union workers are funding lawsuits against employers and union election tactics that border on thuggery at times.  Most non-union employees disagree with those tactics, and being forced to pay for them rankles.

To me, it's a simple question of freedom.  Coercion should have no place in the workplace under any guise, be it union fees or unfair actions by management.  The argument that the fees are necessary because without them, the union would suffer doesn't strike me as a strong case to make.  That unions will have less money for political activity should not be an issue.  The court should be considering the effect of the loss of fees on the union's primary purpose: collective bargaining.  In that sense, dues paid by union members are more than adequate to give the union a fair shot in negotiations.

Unless Gorsuch pulls a Roberts and refuses to back the ban, a significant blow for freedom will be struck by the court when the justices strike down this odious law. 

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