Supreme Court With Gorsuch on Board Will Rehear Union Fees Issue

Supreme Court With Gorsuch on Board Will Rehear Union Fees Issue

Kerry Wise
October 1, 2017

While the Janus case involves a different plaintiff from a different state (Illinois), the argument is the same: Collective bargaining by public-sector unions inherently involves political issues that trigger First Amendment rights, just like the overtly political union activities that nonmembers have long had the right to refuse to help pay for.

The Illinois case involves Mark Janus, a state employee who says Illinois law violates his free speech rights by requiring him to pay fees to subsidize AFSCME, which represents tens of thousands of Illinois workers. But unions are terrified that given the option, most workers will opt out of paying.

But Gorsuch's speech comes just days before the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court term in which Trump's administration has a stake in several major cases.

Public sector employees' union membership averages 17 percent in states that ban mandatory fees compared with 49 percent in states, such as OR, that allow mandatory fees, according to the research by the social scientists who wrote in support of the California Teachers Association. 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. The high court deadlocked on the issue a year ago, but now there's a conservative majority among the justices.

But President Donald Trump's conservative pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch, has since filled the vacant seat, and he is expected to bring the long-awaited fifth conservative vote that could strike a death blow to public-employee unions.

The Supreme Court will hear this political gerrymandering case Tuesday morning.

Court observers expect a decision sometime before the court adjourns in June 2018.

Virginia's Supreme Court said the case involved what the Supreme Court has called the "automobile exception", which generally allows police to search a vehicle without a warrant if they believe the vehicle contains contraband. "When I was hired by the state of IL, no one asked if I wanted a union to represent me".

Pool  Getty Images
Pool Getty Images

The justices agreed to hear a case brought by a non-union government employee in IL that targets fees that his state and many others compel such workers to pay to unions in lieu of dues to fund collective bargaining and other organized labor activities.

Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner first launched the current challenge by issuing an executive order in 2015 directing the state to stop taking union fees from state workers who were not union members.

Labor unions and their supporters argue that optional dues encourage workers to free-ride. And, instead of reaching out to bring new workers into unions, public-sector union leaders have to spend time and resources selling their own members on the value of union membership, especially if Janus prevails. The measure he rejected asserts that only the General Assembly can make laws creating right-to-work policies, in which people can work for a company in union-protected positions without having to join the union or pay union fees.

A federal judge tossed out the governor's suit and said he had no standing to sue because he did not pay the fees.

Together with the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, the Right to Work Foundation has represented Janus, shepherding the case through the courts.

"There's no way for workers to actually ensure that money isn't going to prohibited political activities", he said. But there is no obvious reason why its logic should not apply to private-sector unions as well. In this case the union collects dues only from members who join voluntarily, and crucially also represents only members.

The nation's four largest public sector unions, AFSCME, AFT, NEA and SEIU, criticized the court's acceptance of the case.

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