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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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