The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions, overruling a 40-year-old precedent.
The decision has been labeled as a blow to organized labor by many collective bargaining groups and upends laws in 22 states. The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the State of Illinois, challenged the requirement that government workers who opt out of a union still have to pay partial dues to cover the union’s cost of negotiation and other functions.
The Supreme Court in 1977 drew a distinction between mandatory “agency fees” and other, voluntary union dues which can be used for lobbying or other political activity, but Wednesday’s decision nullifies that distinction. The court found that negotiations are inherently political, and nonmembers cannot be compelled to pay for them.
President Trump hailed the ruling, tweeting immediately:
“Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them. Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”
In California, those in charge of public employees have taken issue with the ruling. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said on Wednesday that the ruling was “disappointing,” and that it “deprives teachers, classified school employees and other working people of the critical resources they need to protect their rights.”
While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn 40 years’ worth of precedent in the Janus case, we are confident that Turlock Teachers will continue to stand up for our students, public education and the communities we serve. This court decision will not discourage our association from continuing to use the collective bargaining process to negotiate for smaller class sizes, safer schools and better learning environments for all students.Eva Lear, vice-president, Turlock Teachers Association
“The big changes underway to serve our students better in California would be impossible to implement effectively if our teachers have low morale. Teachers, at the very least, must have adequate pay, reasonable pensions and good working conditions,” Torlakson said. “California, through its labor-management initiative, has worked hard to bring teachers and district management closer together to the benefit of our students, our parents, and our communities. This ruling will not diminish our efforts to value our teachers and all of our education partners. We will continue working together to make positive changes in education no matter what the federal government does. It’s the California Way.”
The Turlock Teachers Association also vowed to continue working for better schools, despite the decision.
“While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn 40 years’ worth of precedent in the Janus case, we are confident that Turlock Teachers will continue to stand up for our students, public education and the communities we serve. This court decision will not discourage our association from continuing to use the collective bargaining process to negotiate for smaller class sizes, safer schools and better learning environments for all students,” said Eva Lear, vice-president, Turlock Teachers Association.
California State Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle, however, applauded the decision.
“Unions have had a monopoly on California politics for far too long. Today’s decision will stop unions from taking money away from hardworking people, without their consent, to push a political agenda that has made California unaffordable,” Dahle said. “Now, instead of pushing to serve union bosses, the Legislature can concentrate on fighting California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate.”
The California Teachers Association described Janus v. AFSCME as “a case that has been bankrolled by corporate interests who wanted to rig the economic system further in their favor,” adding that the ruling is a “radical interpretation of the First Amendment.”
“Today’s ruling is an attack on working people that attempts to further rig the economy and that reverses four decades of precedent,” CTA President Eric C. Heins said. “The decision is the result of a well-funded and nationally orchestrated effort to weaken the ability of working men and women to come together as unions and to speak with one, united voice. For educators, this an attempt to weaken our ability to stand up on behalf of our students and on behalf of quality public schools.”
According to the CTA, by overturning the 40-year-old precedent, the court eliminated non-members’ fair share fees, which non-members paid for their union’s representational services. Unions are still required by law to represent members and non-members alike, and, as a result, some workers will now be paying more than their fair share and allowing some to opt out of paying anything at all for collective bargaining will make it harder for all public employees to provide the services that everyone depends on.
“Today’s decision doesn’t change our history and it doesn’t predict our future. We look forward to our future with optimism and will continue our important work to ensure that all California students get the quality public education they need and deserve,” Heins said.