Major Supreme Court Decision Will Affect Public Sector Employees, and Could Reach Private Sector Workers in the Future

Dara Barney

A big Supreme Court ruling today (5-4) states that public sector employees won’t be required to pay union fees directed toward campaigning, political activities, etc.

In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council, the lead plaintiff, Illinois Health and Family Services employee Mark Janus pays approximately $550 per year to AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, per the article. Even though he isn’t a member, he claims that piece of his paycheck is taken out under unconstitutional circumstances.

“….But basic economic theory shows why a government would think that agency fees are necessary for exclusive representation to work,” according to the ruling. “What ties the two together, as Abood recognized, is the likelihood of free-riding when fees are absent. Remember that once a union achieves exclusive-representation status, the law compels it to fairly represent all workers in the bargaining unit, whether or not they join or contribute to the union.”

Deputy Chief Judge David Langham, of the Florida Office of the Judge of Compensation Claims, told WorkersCompensation.com via email that the Abood decision deemed the charges okay, as the individual “enjoyed the benefits.”

“…Imagine if someone was going to negotiate with WorkersCompensation.com for better pay and benefits. A success would benefit all employees. But, what if all employees were not members or dues payers of the WorkersCompensation.com union. That outcome is that a non-dues-payer could be enriched at the expense of the dues payers. So, in Abood, the Court concluded that non-members could nonetheless be forced to pay union dues,” he said.

The leader of the free world seemed to support the Janus decision, taking to Twitter.

“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!” the President tweeted.

“…The repercussions could affect unions nationwide. Union membership nationwide is less than 11 percent of the American workforce, but about a third of government employees are members,” writes Bill Mears of Fox News.

The ruling stated “…In many cases over many decades, this Court has addressed how the First Amendment applies when the government, acting not as sovereign but as employer, limits its workers’ speech. Those decisions have granted substantial latitude to the government, in recognition of its significant interests in managing its workforce so as to best serve the public.”

This will have a major effect on the public sector, according to Judge Langham. While some states deem striking illegal, unions can negotiate on behalf of its members. But, said unions can also utilize funds for political and campaigning purposes.

“…Thus, if someone is forced to contribute their money, they are likewise forced to support speech with which they do not agree. What if the WorkersCompensation.com union decided to endorse me for President. You might be appalled or worse. Your money now supporting my bid for President on a ‘no pizza in America’ platform (I hate pizza). You love pizza, and your money is contributing to me eliminating your access to it,” according to Judge Langham.

This ruling can set the precedent for not only public sector employees, but maybe even private sector workers as well in the future.

“Florida is a right to work state. The effect of this decision is potentially more important in non-right to work states like Illinois. Some still call those states ‘closed shop,’ but the Taft Hartley Act prevents employers from refusing to hire someone because of union membership. But, if you get hired, in a non-right to work state, you will have to join the union. It is a burden of that job, just as the pay, benefits, privileges of that job are benefits,” Langham said.

Can a private employer enforce these membership fees? Janus was more about public sector association, but a private employer might have “more free speech” control. For instance:

“WorkersCompensation.com (President and CEO) Bob Wilson could say ‘all (of my) employees will only wear red shirts… when in public.’ You might hate red, but that expression (wearing the ‘team colors’) would likely be upheld. This is because you (private person) are making a deal with a company (private) and you are free to either make that deal or not. That is very different from government,” Judge Langham said.

“…The ultimate outcome is that public unions will see a decrease in income. First, they will see the ‘free riders’ who are not members stop paying them. But, there are also likely members today who belong to the union because they figure ‘well I have to pay anyway, why not be a member.’”