Washington, June 27, 2018 – In a historic 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled today that government workers cannot be forced to join a union as a requirement of their employment.
Writing for the majority, [ read the decision here] Justice Sam Alito noted, “We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members. But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years. 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.”
Now, those who take a job in the government sector will have to opt-in, in other words, take an affirmative decision to join a union representing government workers, rather than having to opt-out. So new government workers, whether directly for the Federal, State or local level, or school teachers, will NOT be automatically enrolled in a union. Unions will have to spend much more effort trying to recruit members to join and pay their membership costs.
This will have major implications across the nation, as more than a third of public employees are unionized, compared to approximately 6% of non-government workers. The National Education Assn reportedly estimates this may cause some 300,000 members to leave the union nationwide, resulting in a loss of tens-of-millions in union dues. That alone will have a huge impact on unions ability to donate to political candidates — largely Democrats.
This will surely go down as one of the most significant rulings on Labor Law in years, and the ramifications of this ruling may take some years to be fully realized.
One side aspect to this case is it may help Gov Bruce Rauner to heal the wounds with Illinois Republicans, that split over his signing of two controversial bills last year that conservatives opposed. Now, win or lose his bid for re-election, many observers will surely say the Janus case, will be one of the primary elements of Bruce Rauner’s legacy.
Following the release of the decision, Gov Rauner tweeted portions of it, “Free speech serves many ends. It is essential to our democratic form of government, see, e.g., Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64, 74–75 (1964), and it furthers the search for truth, see, e.g., Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U. S. 88, 95 (1940). Whenever the Federal Government or a State prevents individuals from saying what they think on important matters or compels them to voice ideas with which they disagree, it undermines these ends.”
Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers [IFT] released a statement, “Though not unexpected, it was incredibly disappointing to see powerful special interests take precedence over the best interests of middle-class Americans at the Supreme Court today. This case was a direct attack on working people and the causes we fight for every day – protections like health care, safe workplaces, and small class sizes. This is personal for all teachers, school staff, college faculty and staff, graduate workers, and other hard-working public employees – but even more so here in Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner originated this well-funded attack.
Rauner and his powerful friends are focused on eliminating unions because we are one of the last checks on their control and their attempts to rig the economy and democracy further against working people. And so no court case will divide us or stop our movement. We value our voice. We value our union. And we will keep fighting powerfully for the future we all deserve.”
The case actually started with a suit brought by Gov Rauner (R-IL) that challenged the right of workers to opt out of joining a union at work. The union in question is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the union that represents state government workers in Illinois.
That initial challenge by the Governor was thrown out as the Governor “did not have standing” — a legal term that means only those who are directly impacted can bring a suit to alter an outcome of existing law. And the Governor was not a member of the union.
Enter Mark Janus, an employee of the State of Illinois, who brought the suit that contends he should not be forced to join AFSCME and pay union dues. Part of the argument is that Janus doesn’t wish his money to go to support causes and candidates that he personally doesn’t support.
Following today’s decision, Mark Janus, who was in Washington, said, “We now have five million public-sector non-union members that can make their own choice as to whether they want to be a part of that union. It will not affect collective bargaining. Unions will still have that right. It’s just that the worker now has the ability to make their own decision, and that’s why I brought this case. It’s up to the workers to decide what they want for themselves, not some other larger entity”
This ruling impacts membership in GOVERNMENT UNIONS. But this is not the first time such suits have been brought or challenges made against forced unionization.
There have been a number of challenges over the years that sought to give workers “the right to work” without joining a union or to avoid having their union dues spent to support candidates with whom they disagree.
The concept of majority rule in a vote for a union should then be applied to all workers at a place of work, arose from the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, which was part of FDR’s New Deal, and was ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1937, said labor unions could represent ALL workers by just a majority vote at a place of work, as the members who wished to have a union were protected by the right freedom of association.
But those who are opposed to forcing the minority members of such a vote on unionization argue the freedom of association should give them the right to opt out of a union they do not wish to be a part of.
THAT argument was noted in one such article on the subject, written in July 2002 that was published by the Foundation for Economic Education, which said in part, “The NLRA violates individual workers’ freedom of association in two ways: forced representation and forced payment of agency fees. First, under the principle of exclusive (monopoly) representation, when a union has been approved as bargaining agent by a majority of workers on a job, that union also becomes the bargaining agent for those workers who voted against the union, as well as for those workers who didn’t vote. Individual members are even forbidden to represent themselves. Other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, are not subject to majority rule. Neither should freedom of association be subject to majority rule.
NLRA also forces many workers who are represented by unions against their will to pay those unions for the representation they do not want. This is called “union security,” but it is forced association. No worker’s fundamental human rights should be sacrificed simply to provide unions with financial security.”
Unions argue that majority rule is a basic foundation of a democracy and that those in the minority may not opt out of the result of an election.
Unions also argue that those workers who voted against unionization, still enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, in higher wages, pensions, healthcare and other improvements in the workplace that would be impossible to achieve but for the ability of labor to be organized and represented as a whole in labor negotiations.
Unions also say it would be unfair for them to incur the cost of unionizing, and potentially going on strike in an effort to win better wages and benefits, only to have those workers who opted out of the union then enjoy those same benefits.
POTENTIAL IMPACT ON ELECTIONS
Beyond labor law, this case could also have a dramatic impact on national elections and the makeup of Congress. The Democratic Party, already in the minority in both the US House and Senate, received the vast majority of over $160 million donated by unions to candidates for public office.
Pit the loss of potentially millions of dollars in union dues that would go to support Democratic candidates, against the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United v FEC” that allows corporations can give as much money to a political cause or candidate as they wish, and it is possible the competitive nature of Republicans v Democrats that currently holds, could be undone.