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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Public Sector Union Case

by Countable | Updated on 7.9.18

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Janus v. AFSCME, a case which could have sweeping ramifications for public sector unions and government workers across the country.

What’s it about?

The core question of the case is whether a state can force government workers — whether or not they’re in a union — to pay fees to support the union’s collective bargaining and other activities. The plaintiff, an Illinois state employee named Mark Janus, isn’t a union member but is required by Illinois’ "fair share" law to pay about $550 annually to the public sector union known as AFSCME.

In Janus’ own words:

"The fundamental issue is my right to choice. I had to pay the fee. Nobody asked me. I wasn’t given the opportunity to say yes, which is also, ultimately, the ability to say no.”

What are the arguments?

  • Janus argues that by being compelled to pay fees to AFSCME, he was in essence being forced to subsidize a union and its political views (of the nearly $1.7 million AFSCME spent on 2016 congressional races, 99.7% went to Democratic candidates). He argues that prohibitions on unions using non-members fees for political purposes don’t go far enough, because public sector unions negotiate pay and benefits with the government which is inherently political.

  • AFSCME (the American Federation for State, County, and Municipal Employees) argues that employees such as Janus have to pay dues because they benefit from the union’s collective bargaining activities, otherwise they would be "free riding". The union contends that a decision in Janus’ favor would undercut its ability to administer contracts, collectively bargain, and handle grievance procedures for its 1.6 million members and retirees across the country.

What will the outcome be?

It’s unlikely that a decision will be released before June, but when the ruling comes it will likely divide the court along its ideological lines. A similar case which reached the Supreme Court two years ago after the passing of the late Justice Antonin Scalia and prior to the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch resulted in a split decision that left the lower court’s ruling intact and opened the door to Janus’ challenge.

Justice Gorsuch didn’t ask questions that would reveal his perspective during the oral arguments of the case, but many court watchers expect him to side with court’s conservative justices to rule in Janus’ favor.

Do you think that government workers, even those who aren’t union members, should have to pay dues to public sector unions? Hit Take Action to tell your reps, and share your thoughts below!

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock)

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Written by Countable

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(82)
  • Brendan
    02/27/2018
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    The right vote here is to vote for unions and against Janus. If he doesn't want to pay union dues , he didn't have to take the position. This case is just another way to bust unions and their funding. Do the right thing and show support verbally for the union/ unions across the country.

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  • Roger
    02/27/2018
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    Of course, no one should be compelled to contribute to a union against their will. Whenever anyone applies for a position that is covered by collective bargaining they should be informed that contribution to the union is a condition of accepting the position. The applicant who finds that to be an unacceptable condition has every right to seek employment elsewhere.

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  • Carolyn
    02/27/2018
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    If we don’t protect the unions it will be the last nail in the coffins of the middle class.

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  • Azrael
    02/27/2018
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    If you reap the benefits you must contribute Non union members pay a lesser amount than union members but enjoy all the benefits including representation If we weaken unions we weaken the middle class Civil service is and of itself is a union with benefits similar and sometimes exceeding union benefits

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  • Patty
    02/27/2018
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    Union dues are used to negotiate contracts that benefit workers. If you don’t want to pay dues, go work somewhere else!

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  • Sheri
    02/27/2018
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    Please do not silence the voices of workers. Vote against the Janus case.

    Like (36)
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  • Donna
    02/27/2018
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    Janus would never refuse benefits negotiated by that same Union. If he continues to receive benefits and job protections as a result of Union negotiations, suits etc. , he should be compelled to PAY HIS FAIR SHARE. Union dues are such a small fraction of the costs of insurance and nonarbitrary dismissal affording a worker some coverage from arbitrary and capricious disloyal management.

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  • Karan
    02/27/2018
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    Unions support political causes and if you’re being forced to give money to the unions because of a your job, then that’s forcing you to donate to something against your will. Unconstitutional.

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  • Tim
    02/27/2018
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    Coercion not allowed. Unions tend to bring out the worst in workers. Least effort and value added in my experience. Work should be about getting after it and adding maximum value.

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  • SneakyPete
    02/27/2018
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    People should not have to pay Union dues if they do not desire to be a member of the said union. Specifically if their political views are not inline with the political agenda of said union.

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  • Nancy
    02/27/2018
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    Don’t want to pay union dues, fine...but you negotiate your own employment terms, no benefits from union. That should make the employers happy.

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  • Rodney
    02/27/2018
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    The ignorance and naivety of the average person today is amazing. They seem to believe that the wages, the work benefits they have - 40 hr weeks, vacation, sick leave, medical insurance, seniority, etc was given to them out of the kindness of corporations. They believe they will be able negotiate by themselves better working conditions. This is only possible if they have some unique skill or talent to offer. Very very few people are in that position. They will be taken advantage of and worked to death. This is happening in the professional jobs today as they ship work out of the country for those jobs to use cheap labor. They obviously do not know anything about the union of struggle for the worker to get the work conditions they have today. Once the last vestiges of union power is gone, the sweat shops will return to this country.

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  • Chester
    02/27/2018
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    Being forced to buy into something is unconstitutional just like Obamacare!

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  • David
    02/27/2018
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    Support all unions!

    Like (9)
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  • Sam
    02/27/2018
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    Please support unions for public service employees in New York City and the New York State!

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  • Brian
    02/27/2018
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    If you benefit from the actions of the union and select to work at a union job and expect to get the same benefits as a union member then pay the dues or get a non union job I strongly support the union if it were up to corporations doctors would make the same as McDonalds employees

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  • Gerald
    02/27/2018
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    There is a lot of myths and miss information out there about unions but the real impact of unions has been studied for over 100 years. Here’s what unions have provided our society. 1. Unions Gave Us The Weekend: In 1870 the average workweek for most Americans was 61 hours. In the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, labor unions engaged in massive strikes in order to demand shorter workweeks so that Americans could be home with their loved ones instead of constantly toiling for their employers with no leisure time. By 1937, these labor actions created enough political momentum to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act. This leisure time has fueled much of our economy including the entire tourism industry, fitness industry, and such areas as snowmobiles, ATV’s etcetra. 2. Unions Gave Us Fair Wages And Relative Income Equality: Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, by 28%. Further strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. There are several ways that unionization’s impact on wages goes beyond the workers covered by collective bargaining to affect nonunion wages and labor practices. For example, in industries and occupations where a strong core of workplaces are unionized, nonunion employers will frequently meet union standards or, at least, improve their compensation and labor practices beyond what they would have provided if there were no union presence. This dynamic is sometimes called the “union threat effect,” the degree to which nonunion workers get paid more because their employers are trying to forestall unionization. 3. Unions Helped End Child Labor: The very first American Federation of Labor (AFL) national convention passed “a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment” in 1881, and soon after states across the country adopted similar recommendations, leading up to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act which regulated child labor on the federal level for the first time. 4.Unions Won Widespread Employer-Based Health Coverage: The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans. 5. Unions Spearheaded The Fight For The Family And Medical Leave Act: Unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Finally let’s address the issue of forcing someone to pay their fair share. Our roads, police protection, firefighters, military, schools, even the insurance you pay for auto insurance is a requirement and based on actuarial statistics that require you pay your fare share. While we all complain about taxes the reality is that our society wouldn’t function without a social contract. An unwritten requirement of all societies that we share the burdens of making life better for everyone.

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  • Leeds
    02/27/2018
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    No free rides! I walked the line for everyone’s benefit, not just my own.

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  • Linda
    02/27/2018
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    Unions have taken a beating for quite some time. People have forgotten the good unions did for workers - salary, safety. If you work for a company with a union, and that union supports all workers of the company, represents your goodwill, shouldn’t you pay into that union. My husband was not a strong union guy, but he paid his dues as part of the privilege to work where the union worked to protect the worker. Unions have a place in labor. Let’s hope we keep our unions strong and our labor standards pro-worker. Too many companies do not treat employees as their best asset; profit is more important.

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  • Marc
    02/27/2018
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    I believe that a union shop is legal, but if they said that those who don’t want to pay dues should not be entitled to benefit from the union contract. They should not be allowed to match any union benefits and if they pay non union more, they need to give union more.

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