If the Supreme Court sides with the Janus plaintiffs, the political landscape in such states will be transformed. Front row, (from left), Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
This will be the first full term for Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to consider a case that could overturn a 40-year-old ruling that allows public sector unions to collect fees from workers who are not members. In those states, unions still represent workers but membership rates are lower. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The ruling issued in March 2016 was evenly split, setting no new legal precedent and leaving the existing system in place.
The court seemed ready to overrule the 1977 case, and the 4-4 tie the court announced in March of that year nearly certainly meant that Scalia, not typically a friend of unions in high court cases, would have been part of the majority ruling against them.
Those who defend the practice say unions are negotiating for that worker's pay and benefits whether they join or not, and therefore should pay dues because they benefit from the union's actions. The fees help pay for those efforts. These employees don't pay union dues, but they do pay "fair share" or "agency" fees to cover costs of contract negotiations and grievance administration.
The case centers on a state of IL worker who says he shouldn't be forced to pay dues to AFSCME. In the public sector, by contrast, more than a third of workers still belong to a union. "Janus v. AFSCME presents an opportunity to restore fairness and First Amendment rights to millions of American workers by giving them the right to choose whether to support a union with their money", said Jacob Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center.
Unions reject the First Amendment arguments, saying that collective bargaining is different from political activity. "My union gives me a voice and a seat at the table to advocate for my students, my colleagues, and my community", Shpilyuk said. If they do, they're being coerced into offering financial support for an inherently political organization as a condition of employment - which is especially troubling when the employer is the government.
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The court is expected to hear the case next year and issue a decision by early summer. That's the law in close to two dozen states, including IL. "It's not going to be a one-way deal anymore".
"This case is a blatant attempt to take away the freedom of working people to join unions and speak up for themselves on the job", NYUST President Andy Pallotta said in a prepared statement. The Supreme Court has granted cert in a challenge to the forced payment of union dues by non-members, a dispute that the court has failed to resolve three times in the past.
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The executive order was put on hold when a judge in Downstate St. Clair County ordered the state to keep passing the fees along while the matter continued to play out in court.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would decide a case that could see the last bedrock of the labor movement starved of funding.
The new case concerns Mark Janus, who works for the state government in IL and is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The point is not lost on Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing Janus.