Labor and Employment Law at the U.S. Supreme Court – Janus v. AFSCME
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on a case that is of great importance to employers. In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the Court ruled that government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be charged for the cost of collective bargaining.
Under the challenged Illinois law (and similar laws in over 20 other states), after a union became the exclusive representative for a bargaining unit, it was allowed to establish an “agency-shop” arrangement, whereby all employees were required, as a condition of continued employment, to either join the union or remain a non-member, but pay mandatory “fair share” or “agency fees”. Agency fees were allowed to cover union expenditures attributable to the union’s collective bargaining activities, but could not cover the union’s political and ideological projects.
The Plaintiff, Mark Janus, is a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, whose job is a union position under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (“AFSCME”). Janus is not a member of AFSCME but under the challenged law, he was required to pay agency fees.
Janus argued that by requiring him to make any financial contribution to a union, Illinois’ agency shop arrangement violated his constitutional rights to free speech and association. Janus asserted that everything the public employee union does is inherently political because what the union bargains for—salaries and benefits for their members—impacts state budgets and the use of taxpayer dollars.
AFSCME disputed that argument and said that Janus was free to express disagreement with the union. AFSCME also noted if workers were not required to pay fees, then there would be an issue of “free riders” who benefit from collective bargaining but do not contribute to those costs.
Decision of the Court
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be forced to pay fees for the cost of collective bargaining. The majority determined that negotiations by public sector unions are inherently political and nonmembers cannot be compelled to pay for them.
Furthermore, the Court’s decision requires public employee union membership to be opt-in, not opt-out. Agency fees and union dues cannot be deducted from non-union employee wages unless the employee affirmatively agrees to pay.
This ruling will likely have far-reaching implications including effectively extending right-to-work laws to government employees across the country, and may decrease public-sector union revenue. Unions will still be required to represent everyone in the collective bargaining unit, regardless of whether a worker is paying dues or not.
If you have questions regarding this article or other labor and employment law matters, please contact Heather Bredeson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 952-921-4624 or any other attorney at Seaton, Peters & Revnew, P.A.