U.S. Supreme Court issues 5-4 decision that government workers cannot be forced to pay union fees
Today, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. At question in the case is whether compelling nonunion public employees to pay collective bargaining fees violates the First Amendment. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that forcing nonunion public employees to pay collective bargaining fees does in fact violate the First Amendment. In an opinion by Justice Alito, the court’s conservative majority ruled that forced collection of agency fees “violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.” Importantly, the Court also holds that “neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay” —the system must be opt-in, not opt-out.
Jacob Huebert, Janus’ attorney from the Liberty Justice Center, responded to today’s ruling: “This is the biggest victory for workers’ rights in a generation. The First Amendment guarantees each of us, as individuals, the right to choose which groups we will and won’t support with our money. Today the Supreme Court recognized that no one should be forced to give up that right just to be allowed to work in government. The Court recognized that unions have the right to organize and to advocate for the policies they believe in – but they don’t have a special right to force people to pay for their lobbying. They have to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, offered the following comment:
“Today’s decision is a landmark victory for rights of public-sector employees coast-to-coast that will free millions of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees from mandatory union payments. While this victory represents a massive step forward in the fight to protect American workers from forced unionism, that fight is far from over. Union officials and their allies in state government have already taken steps to prevent workers from exercising their rights under the Janus decision, while millions of private sector workers in states without Right to Work protections are still forced to pay union fees or else be fired. Further, workers of all stripes continue to have their freedoms of association violated by being forced under union monopoly ‘representation’ against their will. So while we celebrate today’s decision, there remains much work to do to both enforce and expand upon this historic victory over coercive unionism.”
Background: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME on Feb. 26, 2018. On the day of oral arguments, a large crowd of public school teachers, other government workers and supporters from across the country rallied outside the Supreme Court on Janus’ behalf, calling on the court to “Stand with Mark” and “Stand With Workers.”
Illinois is among 22 states that has required many government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Plaintiff Mark Janus has worked for state government in Illinois as a child support specialist since 2007. Over the past decade, he was forced to paid thousands of dollars in union fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – even though he opposes many of the union’s positions on public policy issues, felt he would be better off without the union’s so-called representation and was never asked if he wanted to be covered by a union contract. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in his favor, Janus will not be required to pay these union fees.
The fight over non-member union fees intensified in Illinois in 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge in Chicago to declare non-member union fees unconstitutional. Lower courts ruled that the governor did not have standing to bring this suit because he personally was not required to pay union fees. That’s when state worker Mark Janus intervened in the lawsuit with the help of the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The case was renamed Janus v. AFSCME, and Janus was successful in taking this fight all the way to the highest court in the nation.
More information about the case is available at www.nrtw.org/janus.