A Conservative U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that deals a major blow to American unions. The ruling was handed down in a 5-4 vote along party lines.
On Wednesday, the SCOTUS voted to potentially defund, in part, many of the public sector unions that rely on fees from public workers. The deal was reached after Republicans refused to nominate Merrick Garland and instead filled Scalia’s vacant seat with Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.
In Janus v. AFSCME, the Justices have ruled that anti-union workers have a “constitutional right” to refuse union dues while receiving the same benefits as their union paying co-workers.
The Supreme Court case was brought forth by Mark Janus, an Illinois public sector employee who claimed because he is a government employee, any collective bargaining on his behalf is inherently political.
Under the SCOTUS ruling unions are now required to represent ever shop worker, regardless if they choose to join a particular union. Essentially, non-union members receive all the benefits with none of the payment commitment.
Unions not only help increase pay, by up to 12% according to the Huffington Post but also handle grievances and other issues which require overhead. Without dues, many unions could collapse, leaving employees with no means to collectively bargain, a dream scenario for Republicans that has already started to show signs of stress against workers in Wisconsin.
In the past, the free-rider program was supplemented with “agency fees” and “fair share fees” which required non-union members to pay a small fee in order to receive the benefits of the union.
The program has always allowed non-union members to refuse any fees that were used for political purposes while only paying for bargaining and other services.
SCOTUS, in the JANUS case, has ruled that unions can no longer legally require those fees to be paid, arguing it is unconstitutional but only within the public sector.
Alito’s Majority Opinion
Judge Alito, who was hoping for this outcome writes that the fees are comparative to a state requiring, “all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues.”
Alito argues that unions provide public spending on “inherently political issues and an employee cannot be required to contribute to them by a collective bargaining agreement,” the HuffPost notes.
The Justice also attempted to downplay fears over union loses while attacking the original Abood case. “We recognize that the loss of payments from non-members may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members,” Alito wrote. “But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years.”
A Constitutional Mess
While the Janus case focuses on public sector workers, it could be used to argue that collective bargaining is a First Amendment issue and that minimum wage laws prevent a ban on low wage job negotiations.
The ruling goes against a 1977 Supreme Court ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which found that non-union members could still be required to pay fees if not used for political purposes. The court ruling said “fair share” fees for collection bargaining, grievances, and other rights were reasonable.
Justice Elena Kagan Dissents
We are left with a slippery situation that angered Justice Elena Kagan in her dissenting opinion.
“Speech is everywhere—a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it). For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech.”
Make no mistake about it, with unions likely to starve for cash, the Republican machine has created a bigger divide between voters heading into the 2018 mid-term elections.
Had Chief Judge Merrick Garland been elected to fill the SCOTUS position left open by Scalia, as he should have been, the ruling would almost certainly have fallen in the other direction.
Donald Trump, of course, was quick to celebrate the Union bashing SCOTUS ruling, claiming it somehow was a sign that union members no longer had to support a candidate they didn’t endorse, a false narrative based on fee collection before the ruling.
Keep in mind that the 46 Democrats in the Senate who favored Garland were overruled by the 54 Republicans who had the support of nearly 25 million fewer people.
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James Kosur is the former Editor-In-Chief and co-founder of Hill Reporter. He recently served as an editor for Business Insider and various other publications. James and his partners sold Hill Reporter to a new owner in July 2019.