Supreme Court to hear major challenge to public-sector unions

The Supreme Court Thursday agreed to hear a labor case to settle an issue that it twice has ducked before - whether government employee unions can compel non-members to pay fees toward activities like negotiating contracts.

"Janus" is Mark Janus, an IL state employee who argues that he should not have to pay dues to the union to which he does not belong even if it represents him.

Another Illinois child protection worker, who is, unlike Janus, a union supporter, also weighed in: "This court case is yet another political attack on the freedom of my colleagues and I to speak up to ensure that we can safely and adequately manage our caseloads, which reflects our commitment to safety and public service to our communities", said Stephen Mitton, a member of AFSCME Council 31. In that case, Abood vs. Detroit, the Supreme Court said it was reasonable to require all employees, not just union members, to pay to support the cost of bargaining because all of them benefited.

The U.S. Supreme Court has chose to take up a case Thursday which aims at ending mandatory union dues for all public-sector workers. In 2016, a suit brought by California teachers was nearly universally expected to produce a full-on reversal of the 1977 holding, but the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the Court deadlocked 4-4 on the case, leaving a circuit court decision in favor of the union in place.

"By its very nature, the activity of a government union is political", Rauner said in a Thursday interview with the Tribune. I don't want to be associated with a union that claims to represent my interests and me when it really doesn't. They take money involuntarily from their members, a large majority of whom have never even voted on whether to be represented by a union, and many of whom disapprove of the union's agenda, and recycle that money into left-wing causes, Democratic Party candidates, and inflated salaries for countless union officials. A tied decision defaults to the lower courts, which ruled against the lawsuit.

While Justice Anthony Kennedy remains the swing vote, the decisions that come out of the court may prove the importance of the appointment of Gorsuch to the bench.

The governor later told reporters that he hopes the case will be heard by the Supreme Court in 2019. The measure he rejected asserts that only the General Assembly can make laws creating right-to-work policies, in which people can work for a company in union-protected positions without having to join the union or pay union fees. In 2014, the Court skirted the issue by deciding that the employees in question, home health aides paid by Illinois' Medicaid system, weren't "full-fledged" public employees who could be required to pay dues.

The Supreme Court case does not affect private-sector unions. If the fees were no longer required, more workers might decide not to join unions in an effort to keep more money in their paychecks.

Janus doesn't think AFSCME is working for the good of the IL government, he wrote in the Chicago Tribune previous year.

Court observers expect a decision sometime before the court adjourns in June 2018. Public sector employees would be stuck paying mandatory agency shop fees for the foreseeable future, and unions would continue to receive a steady funding stream. A federal judge ruled a short time later that the governor did not have standing to proceed with the case, but the three state workers did.

Congressional Republicans have also introduced a bill aimed at making union dues and fees optional for all workers.

  • Rogelio Becker