Supreme Court hears case challenging mandated union fees for public employees

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday for a case with big repercussions for public-sector unions and their political influence across the country.

The case at hand is Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a challenge filed by Illinois worker Mark Janus against a state law allowing public sector unions to collect fees from public employees who have chosen not to join a union.

The mandatory union fees are ostensibly intended to help cover the cost of collective bargaining. There are 22 states that allow unions to collect these fees. While the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their legality in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, opponents argue the so-called “agency fees” infringe on the First Amendment rights of employees who might object to having to subsidize organizations with which they disagree.

After all, public-sector unions these days not only engage in collective bargaining which, unlike in the private sector, can have significant impact on the taxpaying public, but they also do considerable political lobbying.

The Janus case is appropriately seen as a redo of a similar case just two years ago, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The plaintiff in that case, Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, objected to many of the stances of the union, which include fervent opposition to school vouchers and strong defenses of teacher-tenure laws that make it difficult to fire bad teachers.

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on the case. If he had lived, the expectation was that Scalia would have cast the deciding vote in favor of Friedrichs and in favor of the First Amendment rights of public employees.

Now, with Janus and with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the court, proponents of overturning mandatory union fees get another shot. Janus, a bookkeeper at the Illinois Department of Public Health, has made clear that he opposes funding a union, the AFSCME, which pushes for higher public-sector pay and public-sector pensions that have had negative impacts on the state budget.

Categories: Good Morning San Diego, Politics