The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that unions cannot force government employees to pay dues.
The ruling essentially overturns a 41-year-old decision that had given states the authority to decide whether public employees, including non-members, were required to contribute to the unions that represent them.
“The 5-4 decision fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called ‘fair share’ fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states,” reports Newsmax.
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito explained that forcing non-members to pay dues is a violation of the First Amendment because in some cases it forces employees to financially contribute to a group with opposing political views. “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a non-member’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay,” wrote Alito.
The dissenting justices bemoaned the fate of labor unions and accused their conservative fellows of misrepresenting the First Amendment.
The majority ruling “overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation’s law…for over 40 years,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan. “It prevents the American people…from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”
Kagan was joined in her dissenting opinion by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader GInsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.
“Almost all economic regulatory policy affects or touches speech,” continued Kagan. “So the majority’s road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices. The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance – including over the role of public-sector unions.”
The Supreme Court considered a similar case on fair share fees in 2016, but the ruling was split 4-4 following the surprise death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Last year, unions strongly opposed President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the bench.
“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,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”
Nearly 30 states have “right-to-work” laws that ban unions from demanding fair share fees, but a majority of public-sector union members live in states that don’t (such as New York, California, and Illinois). In states without right-to-work laws, unions insist fair share fees are necessary to conduct collective bargaining for wage and benefit increases, workplace safety, and grievance procedures. This work benefits all employees – not just members.
The Supreme Court’s ruling stands to affect more than 5 million government workers throughout the country, and could lead to a 10% decrease in union membership.
Labor unions might “experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term,” noted Alito, but should not forget about the “considerable windfall” they have enjoyed for the past 41 years.
According to The New York Times, however, some labor unions have been preparing for the Supreme Court ruling by tightening relationships with existing members and investing in aggressive membership campaigns.
“No one wanted this case,” said President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. “But the gestalt around the country has been to turn an existential threat into an opportunity to engage with our members like never before.”
In the meantime, conservatives groups are bringing lawsuits to retroactively recover fees collected by unions from non-members as well as running campaigns aimed to convince workers to leave their unions.
Editor’s note: This is a major blow to the financing and overall power of unions. And with the subsequent lawsuits, it could bring some of them all the way down.