Supreme Court Deals Major Financial Blow To Public Employee Unions

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The Supreme Court overturned two laws Wednesday related to unions for public-sector employees, overturning a 40-year-old precedent. One was an Illinois law that required people who were not members of a union to pay fees that are used in collective bargaining. The other was passed in 1977 and forced employees to pay “fair share” fees to help cover the cost of collective bargaining. The decision means that teachers, police officers, and other public employees will no longer have to pay dues to a union if they don’t belong to that union. CNN states that the decision could deal a serious blow to the financial stability of unions. Voting was 5-4 and split among justices in the same manner that other recent decisions of the high court have been split. The majority conservative judges ruled that public-sector employees can not be required to support a private group that negotiates with the government because it may result in the union supporting political messages with which they do not agree. Justice Samuel Alito said that collecting fees from nonmembers was unconstitutional.

“It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”

The specific case under consideration Wednesday was Janus vs. AFSCME, but the court’s decision overturns laws in California, New York, and 20 other states, most of which are considered Democratic states.

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Wednesday’s decision is expected to mean a loss of tens of millions of dollars for impacted unions, posing a real threat to their future. The New York Times reports that Justice Alito weighed in on the devastating loss of income, saying the court understands it will result in “unpleasant transition costs in the short term,” but that future loss has to be weighed against “the considerable windfall” enjoyed in the past by public-sector unions.

Justice Elena Kagan voiced her passionate disagreement with the decision in a dissent supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.

“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation’s law — and in its economic life — for over 40 years… As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

Unions believe the reasoning behind the court’s decision is flawed because nonmembers are able to get dues used on political activities returned to them. Nonmembers enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, they say, so they should be required to pay their “fair share.” They see Wednesday’s decision as an incentive for those who are currently union members to drop their membership since they can enjoy the rewards without contributing to the work that goes into reaping those rewards.